We drive Michelin racecars in Malaysia, and take 2 readers with us
Michelin Arabia invited us for a trip to Malaysia a couple of months ago, for the 2015 edition of the Michelin Pilot Sport Experience, to drive all sorts of race-cars at the F1 circuit in Sepang. That’s great as a media trip, but then they also gave us two extra invites so that we could run a contest and pick 2 of our readers to go along with us. Let’s just say that our winners, Sreeprasad Jayaprasad from the UAE and Usama Raheel Khan from Saudi Arabia, had the time of their lives.
After being flown to Malaysia, we were put up in a 5-star hotel and even got an entire day of sight-seeing, but the highlight was obviously when we were taken to the Sepang International F1 racetrack for one whole day, where the activities were divided up into four categories.
We started off by driving Renault Clio Cup touring cars, with an instructor by our side. We weren’t asked to hold back though, so after figuring out how to launch the three-pedalled paddle-shifted race-car, we were off to do some flying laps around one section of the track.
The Clio RS-derived stripped-down hatchback is not hugely fast on paper, churning out 220 hp from a 1.6-litre turbo-4, but it felt fast due to all unnecessary weight removed, including any sound-deadening. For a front-wheel-drive car, there’s very little understeer and very good grip, with no ESP aids or anything to slow you down. After the initial 5000 rpm launch to get moving, the clutch pedal isn’t even required any more, and the car drives like an automatic with paddles.
The next car we tried was the Citroen DS3 rally car, not a full-blown WRC car mind you, but more of a “beginner” version with a 150 hp 1.6-litre turbo-4 and front-wheel-drive. It was also stripped out from the inside, but it had a fully-manual three-pedal setup with an actual shifter. We had to drive around a gravel track with an instructor in the passenger seat.
Armed with rally tyres, the car was easy to hustle around the tight course, with dips, bumps, trees, cones and even foot-long lizards proving to be obstacles. We were encouraged to brake into corners to slide around them, while the instructor occassionally pulled the handbrake to induce some of the slides, as we weren’t allowed to use that on our own. It still proved to be fun, and we were going faster and faster with every lap once we figured out how the heavily-grooved offroad tyres behaved.
We then headed back to the tarmac for a few laps in a single-seater F1-style car. With only 180 hp on tap, it might not sound like much, but the sensation of speed is alarming, sitting that low to the ground and chasing a Porsche 911 pace car.
After the high-rev take-off to avoid stalling, it’s also a massive workout to just get around the track, because the steering is immensely stiff, even if the wheel requires only small movements to make the turn. The brakes are all-or-nothing, so you have to pounce on them at the end of every straight, and the throttle pedal is so sensitive that you start hopping if your inputs are not super-smooth. The easiest part was probably changing the gears with the paddle-shifters, this too not requiring the clutch pedal, but judging shift-points was again hard because the engine is always loud, so you don’t know when you’re hitting redline, and you have to depend on the digital rev counter. All in all, ah exhausting but one-of-a-kind experience. No wonder F1 drivers are so fit.
After a pit-garage mini-massage session to recover from the driving, we were given hot laps in either a Le Mans race-car or a Lamborghini Gallardo Trofeo race-car, and it just showed us how much harder the professionals drive.
We even got a crash-course on the types of tyres offered by Michelin, as they have everything from lawnmower tyres to aircraft tyres, all on display at the event. If you catch one of our winners on the street, you can drill them for tyre information now.