Leslie Chang, ex-racer and former SMSA President, talks about his 40-year friendship with the late William Lyou
Singapore - My racing si-fu William Lyou passed away yesterday (13th July 2022) around 5pm. He had been suffering from a heart condition since 2018.
Despite the long relationship I had with William, both of us had opposing views on how motorsports should be governed in Singapore.
He made it no secret that he voted against me during the SMSA (Singapore Motor Sports Association, now known as Motor Sports Singapore) elections for office bearers and even allowed his membership to lapse when I became president (2014-2016).
However, like a true gentleman, William kept friendship and the machinations that came with my official appointment apart, because 40 years of friendship is too important to be disrupted by politics.
I was introduced to William in 1982 when I wanted to modify my Suzuki 550 (yes, it is a car). He asked me the purpose of the modification and I told him that I hoped to improve my performance for the next race.
He then gave this advice to me, “Hey small boy, the trick is to modify the driver not the car.”
Shortly after, he was hired by Tan Chong (the distributor for Nissan cars) to form Team Nissan.
Due to a potential conflict of interest, William immediately drew a line on what he could/couldn't share with me with regards to technical matters. However, he continued to guide me on less sensitive matters.
That year, I drove the little Suzuki to capture the class award and earned the highest placed novice in the Shell Economy Rally, while William who was competing in the same event won 1st overall outright.
The next year, I was offered a sponsored drive by Asia Motors (former agent for Mazda). Their #1 driver, Dr. Winston Lee, was about to retire but the good old doc stayed on to mentor me so I could race against William competitively.
True enough, William being the brilliant tuner cum racer was extremely hard to beat.
He would always turn up at each event with either the latest vehicle enhancements or some new driving techniques to show.
My team and I would try to peep into his competing cars whenever possible and even videotaped his manoeuvres.
William is known for speaking slowly, but thinking (and driving!) very quickly. His ability to observe and react to any given situations faster than others made him a natural leader. He also had the ability to think outside the box which often caught his peers by surprise.
I am certain William was aware of our spying motives, for we also spent countless hours trying to emulate whatever we had observed. Thankfully, he was unfazed and we remained very good friends.
By 1984, I was able to compete on par with William. In fact, we became the top contenders for car park races till the early 90’s.
So before the start of each event, William would call me by my Chinese name and we would perform the gentleman’s handshake, “Yeow, wish you a good race. If you don’t win, I will.”
Thank you for the encouragement, si-fu. You will always be the voice that makes me calm, resourceful and yet competitive. - Leslie Chang
In mid 90’s, William left Tan Chong to become its authorised dealer for Nissan cars. He continued his dominance in motorsport with the privately entered March, which bagged the Autotest championship.
For sprints and slalom competitions, William was the second driver for my Subaru WRX and true to his earlier words, most races were won either by him or me.
At the end of our inaugural and all-conquering season with the WRX, I told William that I wished to sign up for a rallying course in the UK. I told him I wanted to acquire the skill to go sideway through the corners.
He told me, “Yeow, no need to travel so far. You already have a rally car here, we can be self-taught and master the skill ourselves!”
After several practise sessions that saw us leaving tyre marks in secluded carparks and the occasional encounter with patrolling police officers, I was soon on my way to becoming Singapore’s only driver to have successfully competed in the World Rally Championship.
To this day, I’m sure William will remain as proud as I am for the achievement.
One of William’s favourite weekend activities were breakfast drives to Malaysia with car clubs. Actually, the breakfast was just an excuse for the members to drive upcountry on the winding B roads. William’s superior road craft often made him uncatchable despite driving a humble looking Nissan Primera. Perhaps that’s why William aptly called himself NTFBSDF (Not The Fastest But Still Damn Fast)!
The Merdeka Millennium Endurance was the pinnacle of Touring Car races in this region. I thought William was half-joking when he mooted the idea that we should compete in it and that we were capable of putting together a formidable team. And he did!
In 2003, we finished 11th out of 77 starters. We would have outdone ourselves and finished 4th overall in 2005 if not for a shredded cam gear during the final hours. These two races demonstrated William’s meticulousness, determination and competitiveness. Most importantly, I would NOT have participated in endurance races without William.
In William, I also found an extremely steady pair of hands when we represented Team Singapore for overland trips to China during 2006 / 2009 and to India in 2012. The team leveraged heavily on his vast experience and judgement to overcome numerous challenges and difficult conditions – I don't think I will ever be able to find another trusted partner to replace William.
William loved watches. He initiated and conceptualised the timepieces for the Mini Enthusiasts Club Singapore and the Freemasons of Singapore. During a birthday celebration in 2019, William gave thanks to some of his Masonic friends.
Then he turned his eyes to me and said, “Yeow, I have known you since you were a small boy and I’m confident that you have what it takes to become a Freemason. If ever you wish to join the Masonic Club, I’ll be the first to endorse your entry.”
Thank you for the encouragement, si-fu. You will always be the voice that makes me calm, resourceful and yet competitive.
Oh yes, one last thing. Enjoy your 74th birthday with the angels on 20th July.