9tro: A brief history (2009~2016) – Part 1

Part 1 of 2 (Q4/2009 ~ Q4/2012)

For some of you who may not know, 9tro was originally conceptualized back in Q3/2009 (July ~ September), but officially made public on the 17th of December the same year. Today marks our 7th year in operations and boy have we grown, developed, morphed and learned along the way.


Let me lay some basic facts about 9tro before continuing on, based on questions I am often asked:

Q: What is the purpose of 9tro?

A: To build a likeminded community of automotive enthusiasts. To achieve this, we rely on our Media Division to ‘import’ information and knowledge of the latest styles, trends and technology from outside of South East Asia into the region; while simultaneously ‘exporting’ what is uniquely and truly Asian to the rest of the world. The Media Division also allows us to penetrate usually inaccessible barriers, extract relevant information and to support our partners and clients.

This is supplemented by the synergistic and cohesive pillars of our Events and Motorsports Divisions. With the ever growing wealth of experience and knowledge from both organization and participation, we are able to breach and transcend further than any of our core competitors.

Q: ‘Who’ is 9tro?

A: We are first and foremost enthusiasts. Fans of the cultures and traditions, friends to the industry and family members to one another. We are people who will give a thumbs up when we see a sweet ride roll by. We whip out our cellphones to snaps photos of cars and bikes whenever an opportunity presents itself. We are passionate, that’s who we are. 9tro is not merely a media or events company, 9tro is an addiction and my job is to keep that addiction alive.

Q: 9tro seem to lack focus as an automotive media. What exactly is the central point? New car reviews? Modified car features? Motorsports? Motorshows?

A: We have a holistic understanding of the automotive industry as a whole, that is our focal point. Very few medias truly understand the depth of it all. Over the course of the past seven years, alongside the employment of truly experienced 9tro employees and team members, we have accumulated a vast wealth of knowledge unrivalled by most.

At risk of sounding too arrogant, as a team and family we have test driven and reviewed all forms of cars and bikes around the world; we have featured, organized and participated in multiple car meets, roadshows, auto salons and exhibitions; we have covered and competed in various forms of motorsports ranging from time attacks, sprint races, endurance races and drifting competitions; we have visited factories and assembly plants of both cars and components; we have taken both physical and academic courses to further enrich and update ourselves… The list goes on.

We have made it our careers to understand and appreciate the industry as a whole. I could clearly and easily go on… but before I share more of my personal thoughts, let’s take an in-depth look at how far 9tro has progressed in the past seven years.

(More on how 9tro came about here)

Media – (First era of 9tro: Dec 2009 ~ Dec 2012)

The very initial plan was for 9tro to be built up as an online media platform, but early discussions with a few common friends in Malaysia resulted in the push for a monthly printed magazine to be conceptualized. The plan was for the magazine to incorporate a dual cover format, with half the magazine focusing on the Singapore market and industry, while the other half focusing on the Malaysian parallels.

Unfortunately, the Malaysian side pulled out shortly before the first scheduled publication citing a lack of funds, which was unfortunate as we were already prepared to start. While we could have reverted back to the initial online-only plan, we decided to press on. Despite the setbacks and delays, we adopted a slightly different strategy and six months later, our first issue was released (May 2010).

We retained the dual cover format, splitting the magazine between 9tro Gold Edition (tuned/modified cars, motorsports and racequeens stories) on one side and 9tro Black Edition (new car reviews, motorshows and lifestyle stories) on the flip side.

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Covers of our first few issues of 9tro Magazine, designed by Michael Yen in California. (Top Left to Right): 9tro Gold Edition Issue 01, Issue 02 & Issue 04. (Bottom Left to Right): 9tro Black Edition Issue 01, Issue 02 & Issue 03.

Less than a year later in Q3/2010, our magazines were made available onto mobile platforms (Apple/Android) – the first in South East Asia – via a SingTel app (De!ite) partnership (see video below). A year after, we moved further into the international landscape via a collaboration with Magzter, allowing for the magazines to be distributed onto even more digital platforms (Mac, PC, etc…).

9tro Magazine on Magzter (Apple iPad).

The same year (Q2/2011) saw us split Gold Edition and Black Edition into two separately printed magazines, but the two were still sold together as a bundled package, offering a monthly average of 250 ~ 300 pages of content at an affordable SG$5.00 per month.

Our printed copies continued to be distributed within Singapore by our longtime partners Mediacorp, and in Q2/2012, we extended our accessibility further by engaging Central Papers to circulate 9tro Magazine in Malaysia, thus becoming one of the most widely distributed automotive magazines within the region for both printed & digital formats.

Team 9tro as of May 2011, at our BLACK Magazine unveiling event. (Left to Right): Gerald Tan, Steven Zeng, Brendan Mok, Vincent Ng, Sam Yu, Hong Tsui (me), Melvin Tan, Aaron Tan, Hidayah Fairuz, Jeremiah Lopez, Lim Hui Qi and Bear Ang.
World renowned automotive journalist Doc Ian Kuah joins 9tro in August 2011 and spearheads BLACK Magazine as European Editor. Based full time in Spain, he is still an esteemed member of 9tro today and shows no signs of slowing down ever since he started back in 1980/1981!
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(Left to Right): BLACK Magazine Issue 17, Issue 18 & Issue 21 (final).

While our brand recognition, equity and credibility continued to grow effectively, the unfortunate reality was that the regional automotive industry and global market was shrinking as a direct result of the ‘2007-2008 global financial crisis’ and the subsequent ‘2008-2012 great recession’. With the cost of print and distribution soaring, the painful decision to cease BLACK Magazine was made by Q3/2012, and a few months later, the last issue of 9tro Magazine too, was announced.

As predicted by many competitors, 9tro Magazine was not to last longer than three years, and on that note they were spot on. We simply shifted gears and migrated everything online, which realistically was our initial idea to begin with. I will share more about the above-mentioned ‘painful decision’ later on, but as the old saying goes, the end of a chapter merely heralds the beginning of a new one…

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(Left to Right): 9tro Magazine Issue 21, Issue 25 & Issue 26 (final).

Events & Motorsports – (The first three years: Dec 2009 ~ Dec 2012)

The first ever 9tro photoshoot was held on the 7th of December 2009, ten days before the company was officially announced. It was to be the first of hundreds. The choice of cars also clearly reflected our direction from day one: a blend of Japanese performance cars, European sports and super cars.

First 9tro photoshoot at Zouk Singapore – Jiak Kim. Notice the very first version of our 9tro logo? (Photo: 7th December 2009)
With our first five 9tro Angels! (Photo 7th December 2009)

Further encouraging my decision to proceed on with the publishing of 9tro back in 2009 was the official announcement that a permanent race track (Changi Motorsports Hub by SG Changi) will be built, with completion dates expected sometime in Q4/2012. Being an ardent motorsports fan, I felt it was perfect timing as it will allow 9tro three years to build up its brand name and credibility, before we decide on how we may enter the world of motorsports.

Having understood that the motorsports market goes hand-in-hand with the automotive industry and to a slightly lesser yet equally important extent, the tuning/modification industry, we embarked very early on some campaigns that have yielded positive results.

The first motorsports event we ever organized was a track-day held at Sepang International Circuit back in January 2010, held in conjunction with LTM Performance and now-defunct Spark Motorsports.

With some of the participants at 9tro’s first motorsport event. (Photo: January 2010)

Months before the launch of our first issue in early 2010, we linked up with internationally renowned b-boys Radikal Forze and collaborated in a breakdancing + drifting marketing video, the first such project ever created! (see video below)

Weeks later and days prior to our official magazine launch, we set up our first booth and participated in the 2010 Formula Drift Singapore, an internationally recognized drifting competition with global following and viewership.

With our 9tro Angels Dionna Zhao (left) and Yvonne Tan (right) at the 2010 Formula Drift Singapore. (Photo: April 2010)
9tro banners lining up the walls at the 2010 Formula Drift Singapore. (Photo: April 2010)

Our magazines were officially launched in May 2010 at Suburbia on Sentosa Resort Island in Singapore, with over a hundred guests in attendance. This was to be our first ever event organized!

9tro’s first Editor Aston Lim raising a toast at our official magazine launch event. (Photo: May 2010)
9tro’s first Contributing Writer Reginald Teo (far left) and 9tro’s first Administrative Manager Jo-Lynne (far right), with our guests Jason Lee and Darryl Tan at our official magazine launch event. (Photo: May 2010)
With our guests Pauline Ng, Kaitlyn Gan and David Lin at our official magazine launch event. (Photo: May 2010)

By then, it became apparent to me that participation and organization of relevant events was synergistic towards furthering 9tro’s brand image, credibility and equity, and we embarked on a journey that has continued on till this day.

2010 also saw the creation of our Events and Motorsports Divisions, both working in tandem towards promoting and marketing of 9tro within the South East Asia region and beyond.

9tro participating at the 2010 Mettle Games Singapore. (Clockwise Left to Right) Bear Ang, Melvin Tan, Sam Yu, Yim Xim, Vincent Ng, Brendan Mok, Hong Tsui (me) and Aston Lim. 

Joining 9tro to head the Motorsports Division was professional race driver Gerald Tan, who alongside competitive drifter Vincent Ng (also our Sales and Events Manager), began successfully filling our trophy cabinets!

9tro’s Gerald Tan competing and clinching 1st in the 2010 Malaysian Super Series, in a collaboration between 9tro and Nexus Racing. He has been racing with 9tro ever since! (Photo: November 2010)
Vincent Ng participated in over a dozen drifting competitions and demos, representing 9tro for three years. (2010 till 2012)
Aside from participating in events and competing in races and competitions, we also began investing heavily in reporting motorsports events and races, as well as providing coverage for motorshows and exhibitions around the world. The importance of content never losing its priority.
9tro’s coverage of the 2010 Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix. (Photo: September 2010)
With 9tro’s first Contributing Editor Cheryl Tay at the 2010 Macau Grand Prix. (Photo: November 2010)
With 9tro’s first Chief Designer Melvin Tan at the 2010 Kuala Lumpur International Motor Show. (Photo: December 2010)
9tro appearing in Singapore’s TODAY Newspaper with 9tro co-sponsored race drivers Richard Bradley and Gerald Tan. (Photo: December 2010)
9tro Angels Cherie Tan (left) and Angel Chong (right), with our 9tro Magazines at the 2010 Hella Flash Singapore car meet. (Photo: December 2010)
9tro’s Gerald Tan clinching 3rd-in-class at the 2011 Dubai 24 Hours Endurance Race. (Photo: January 2011)
9tro’s Vincent Ng competing in the 2011 Malaysian FX Open Drift Series. (Photo: March 2011)
9tro’s outdoor roadshow at Cathay CineLeisure Singapore, in conjunction with the official Fast and Furious 5 movie premiere. (Photo: April 2011)
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9tro co-sponsored ABT Audi R8 LMS GT3 driven by Ex-Malaysian Formula 1 race driver Alex Yoong on Orchard Road Singapore for the 2011 Redbull Racing Speed Street; and on display at the Ngee Ann City outdoor roadshow. (Photos: April 2011)
9tro in Surabaya Indonesia with our Indonesian partners CodyMaxx Magazine, for the 2011 CodyMaxx Auto Contest. Melvin Tan (second from left) and our 2nd Administrative Manager Carol Chua (fourth from left). (Photo: April 2011)
9tro at Sepang International Circuit covering the 2011 Asian Festival of Speed, with our 3rd Administrative Manager Lim Hui Qi (middle) and 2nd Editor Brendan Mok. (Photo: June 2011)
9tro co-organized a ‘what is tuning all about’ seminar with Autovox, sharing insightful tips and advice on automotive tuning to our readers and guests. (Photo: August 2011)
9tro entered a year-long partnership with Japan based 7tune. Pictured here, Brendan Mok (left) and Adam Zillin (middle) in Australia for the 2011 World Time Attack Challenge. (Photo: August 2011)

Mid-2011 saw us invest further into encouraging proper motorsports as well as participate actively in racing. By September, we completed the build of our very own Honda Civic EG6 (pictured below in green) which was piloted by our ex-Editor Brendan. Gerald further solidified our relationship with racing partner LTM Performance in their Honda Integra DC5 Type R, while I linked up with R-Engineering in their Honda Civic EK9 Type R.

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Team 9tro at the Singapore Touring Car Challenge championship, with Gerald Tan winning 1st for the 2.0L-class and me winning 3rd for the 1.6L-class (my maiden race). On my left, Benjamin Attard from France, BLACK Magazine‘s Assistant Editor (Photo: September 2011)

October 2011 also saw our first drifting event successfully organized, with Round 1 of the 9tro’us Drift Singapore attracting almost 40 participants. This was promptly followed by Round 2 a month later with equally resounding response.

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Group photo at the end of our 9tro’us Drift – Round 2. (Photo: October 2012)

We would have organized a total of four rounds of 9tro’us Drift Singapore by the end of 2012, a testament towards our commitment for encouraging grassroot-level motorsports. However, due to a variety of reasons such as Singapore’s unique Certificate Of Entitlement (COE) system and a period of major Traffic Police clamp down on modified cars, the number of abled participants by late 2012 dwindled dramatically.

Cost of car ownership in Singapore is unparalleled to anywhere else in the world, with taxes extending up to 270% (this was prior to the increase in Q2/2013). Facts like these make it hard for motorsports enthusiasts to own additional cars and many of our participants were in truth using their personal cars.

One of our 2012 9tro’us Drift promotional/marketing posters.
Drift Ninja Heng and his Nissan Silvia S15 at our 2012 9tro’us Drift Singapore events.
Adam Toh and his Falken Tire Nissan Skyline at one of our 2012 9tro’us Drift Singapore events.
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Nakai-san from Rauh Welt Begriff (RwB) Japan with a copy of our BLACK Magazine during one of our trips to Japan. Notice one of his masterpieces on the cover?

As mentioned earlier, 2012 also saw us expand into Malaysia with our first satellite office established in December 2011. Alongside five new full-timers in Malaysia was our first Thailand based journalist Alongkorn (Eik) Ouitavon. With the team expanded, we were able to do more with a quicker turn-around time.

Team 9tro Malaysia at the 2012 Formula Drift Malaysia competition as Supporting Media Partner. (Clockwise Left to Right): Intan Shuhaidah, Shairazi Suwandi, 9tro Angel Meggie, Mohd Khairul, Dayya Dayyanna, 9tro Angel Yvonne, Joy Estelle, Hong Tsui (me), Damion Chee, Brendan Mok and Praveent Chelvam. (Photo: May 2012)

Aside from organizing more events from 2010 till 2012, we also further increased our regional exposure with strategic partnerships and collaborations. As a print magazine, we partnered up event organizers such as the Bishan Motorsports Group and Three Angels Productions in Singapore; JPM Motorsports x Super GT and Mean Machines in Malaysia; as well as online medias such as Speedhunters from the United States, The Right Wrong from Singapore and 7tune from Japan; and print medias such CodyMaxx Magazine from Indonesia, Option Magazine Hong Kong and Hyper Zpeed Magazine Hong Kong.

These partnerships and collaborations allowed us to gain deeper insights into event organization and management, while also further strengthening our media content.

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9tro at the 2012 Mean Machines Melacca Malaysia outdoor exhibition. (Photo: April 2012)
9tro as Official Magazine for the 2012 Super Import Nights Singapore, by far the largest and best indoor tuning show in Singapore (till date)! Organized by Three Angles Production.

We even partnered up with Sony Asia Pacific at the 2012 Super Import Nights, offering visitors a chance to compete with one another in Grand Turismo 5 on Playstation 3! The winners found themselves at Sepang International Circuit a month later to watch Super GT live! (see video below)

9tro Angels at the 2012 Super Import Nights Singapore. (Photo: May 2012)
(Left to Right): Samantha, Fiona Lee (9tro‘s talent agent), me, Celestina and Ivy.
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Team 9tro at the 2012 Super GT Malaysia. (From Left to Right): Hong Tsui (me), 9tro Angel Germaine Ong, Hidayah Fairuz, Intan Shuhaidah, Dayya Dayyanna, Nur Farhana, 9tro Angel Wengli Cheang and Mohd Khairul. (Photo: June 2012)
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With our 9tro Angels Germaine One (left) and Wengli Cheang (right), at the 2012 Super GT Malaysia. (Photo: June 2012)
9tro’s Thailand representative from 2012 till 2013, Alongkorn (Eik) Ouitavon.
9tro Angel Celestina Tiew at our booth during the 2012 Formula Drift Singapore, the last drifting competition we participated in. This one-of-a-kind RWD Subaru WRX is still being drifted by Vincent Ng till this day! (Photo: July 2012)
9tro Angels (Left to Right): Chua HuiRong, Celestina Tiew and Ivy Sim, at the 2012 Formula Drift Singapore. (Photo: July 2012)

While our shift from drifting to circuit racing was relatively gradual, what remained consistent up till today is our unwavering commitment towards motorsports. There are various reasons as to why I have always emphasized the importance for automotive journalists to hone their skills, but here is what I personally deem most-important.

All disciplines of ‘proper’ motorsports will involve driver(s) and car to be tested to their limits. It is only when we are pushed to the brink, will we best know our abilities and limitations. This effectively allows us as journalists to appreciate and understand ourselves, the components and the conditions better. Will you ask a Le Mans champion for advice on tyres, or will you ask a five star michelin chef? As media, we have a responsibility to be as objective as possible, but as challenging as it is, it will not suffice. We need to be constantly upgrading, enhancing and improving ourselves. When we are invited to test drive cars for example, it is important for us to be both capable and responsible. Having a drivers licences is not enough, and because I saw that as a weakness among others, I made the decision too further develop our understanding from multiple angles.

Armed with ever-growing knowledge and experience, we interview professional race drivers and drifters from Formula OneLe MansD1 Grand Prix and Formula Drift by asking all the right questions. This in turn, allows us to better share and disseminate information and knowledge to our readers. Being a good photographer is not enough, neither is being a good writer. Accumulating and absorbing experiences tends to serve us better. This is how I personally feel about being an automotive journalist.

Me competing in the 2012 Singapore Touring Car Challenge championship. (Photo: July 2012)
One of our 2012 9tro’us Drift X 9tro’us Arena promotional/marketing posters. This was the last drifting event we organized. As the main organizer and sponsor to the event, the many lessons and experiences we earned since 2009 proved valuable, with the Singapore Motor Sports Association hosting their first gymkhana event with us.
The guys from The Right Wrong supported us for our first ever Alliance Meet.
There were easily over 400 cars present at the 2012 Alliance Meet.
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Swapping editorial experiences and industry knowledge with Takashi Koga from Motor Head Magazine Japan. (Photo: October 2012)

The last event we participated in during our ‘first era of 9tro‘ was the 2012 Mean Machines Penang Malaysia in October.

The last edition of 9tro Magazine (Issue 26) was at that time being prepared for November. However, due to the decision to cease publication, we had its release date pushed back till December, so as to fulfil to the best of our abilities all remaining commitments with our clients.

The last race we competed in during this ‘first era of 9tro‘ was the final round of the 2012 Singapore Touring Car Challenge in December.

With Gerald at the final round of the 2012 Singapore Touring Car Challenge championship race. (Photo: December 2012)

It was in fact, shortly after Mean Machines in October when I shared the plans internally to cease publication of 9tro Magazine. As you may imagine, it was one of the hardest decisions I had ever made in my professional career.

Till this day, I still remember what it was like sleeping on the office sofa for weeks at a time, to ensure that all our deadlines were met. I can still feel every ounce of joy and sorrow we all shared when a job was done well, or not. I remember what it was like to literally work 168 hours with only a few power naps in-between and be on rotation with the rest of the team.

Till this day, the looks of disappointment, sadness, frustration and anger in the teams’ eyes when I announced the end of 9tro Magazine is still clearly chiselled into my mind. To have put our hearts, minds and energies into something we believe in, only to see it fade away…

I made the decision to provide as much of a severance package as possible to everyone, despite the fact that the company was deep in debt. It would have been unfair not to do so, especially to the members who chose to fulfil their final commitments and responsibilities to 9tro before moving on.

While it was excruciating to tabulate the immense amount of financial resources I poured into those first three years of 9tro, the pain was not just looking back at the efforts and sacrifices of everyone, but the soul wrenching stab in the face which I never saw coming.

Within days of the internal announcement, individual survival became more important than anything else for some. While I can personally understand that, I have always felt it more important for remaining responsibilities and commitments to be completed first, before moving on.

In a matter of weeks, if not days, word got out that existing members of the 9tro family were planning to launch a new publication. This was before the final issue of 9tro Magazine was even completed and while they were still employed full-time with 9tro! Further exacerbating the situation was when I started seeing online posts on some of their Instagram and Facebook accounts such as “new wallpaper colours for our new office”.

Having regained my composure by late November, I made the decision to continue operations of 9tro by reverting back to the initial plans of being an online platform. Agreeing immediately to soldier on with me was Farhana, who joined 9tro in Q2/2012 as an Assistant Events Coordinator. This was followed shortly after by Hidayah, who joined 9tro sometime back in Q4/2010 as Graphic Designer. Both Vincent and Melvin decided rather amicably to pursue alternative routes and looking back now, seemed to have been positive decisions.

As to the remaining full-timers based in Singapore, it was only Jeremiah who informed me truthfully that he was given a position in the new publication titled AFTMKT, and was planning to accept the offer. Formed in partnership between Brendan and Hui Qi, Shairazi and Sam too, decided to cross over to AFTMKT.

After the final issue of 9tro Magazine was released weeks later in early December, while going through all our backup hard disk drives and servers in search of content to host up onto our new upcoming http://www.9tro.com website, I was further devastated to realized that everything was wiped clean. The hundreds of thousands of photos and videos taken over the course of three years, obliterated.

While there are obviously multiple perspectives to all the incidents both mentioned and not mentioned above, those final two months of 2012 was probably the most traumatizing months of my professional career till date.

Nevertheless, what is past is past and what is history is history. Seven years since, I am both grateful and thankful for all that has transpired and every single person who played a part in helping build 9tro. The trials and tribulations experienced only made us stronger!

Special thanks: Aston Lim, Albert Lee, Alex Yuichi Wolaver, Adam Zillin, Beelay Ong, Benjamin Attard, Bear Ang, Brendan Mok, Carol Chua, Casey Dhnaram, Cheryl Tay, Dayya Dayyanna, Darren Chan, Damion Chee, Dino Carbonare, Eik Ouitavon, Eqi Lim, Fiona Lee, Fatma Osman, Gerald Tan, Hidayah Fairuz, Ian Kuah, Irving, Jo-Lynne, Jay Joel, Jeremiah Lopez, Jun Hong, James Tan, Kristine Lim,Lim Hui Qi, Michael Yen, Melvin Tan, Matthew Everingham, Nur Farhana, Praveent Chelvam, Reg Teo, Sam Yu, Shairazi Suwandi, Sandy Law, Steven Zeng, Tan Eng Siang, Vincent Ng, Victor Herrlin, Yim Xin.

At the very start of this story, I mentioned this to be part 1 of 2, and with over 4000 words typed out in this part 1 story, I think it’ll be best for us to leave the rest of the story to part 2.

As the ‘first era of 9tro‘ (Q4/2009 ~ Q4/2012) faded away into distant memory, the ‘second era of 9tro‘ or rebirth was just beginning…

Stay tuned for Part 2 of 2 (Q1/2013 ~ Q4/2016)

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Visiting now-defunct AFTMKT Magazine, where five of their six staff were once ex-9tro members. (Photo: 2013 Tokyo Auto Salon Singapore)

More information on the history of 9tro can be gathered at our About Us section here.

Of all that is good, sublimity is supreme. Succeeding is the coming together of all that is beautiful. Furtherance is the agreement of all that is just. Perseverance is the foundation of all actions.Lao Tzu

Published by Hong

Driven by Passion, Powered by 9tro!