Confessions of a track newbie

Confessions of a track newbie

OneShift Editorial Team
OneShift Editorial Team
25 Mar 2013

The deal was sealed when company for the drive up north to Pasir Gudang circuit was easily found in an equally enthusiastic friend.

After a rather uneventful drive on an early Saturday morning, only enlivened by a GTR that smoked the hell out of my poor car, we arrived at the Pasir Gudang Pits which seemed to have been turned into an advertisment for Mini's wide range of customization options. Red, Blue, Union Jack roofs, Carbon Fibre mirrors..it was Mini's own version of Rule 34 happening right there. After some standard event food (bee hoon, curry puffs..the breakfast of champions), we wasted little time in getting right into the thick of it.

The event was divided into two parts, flying though sadly untimed laps on the main circuit followed by a rather more spectacular looking session featuring reverse J turns, 360 spins, handbrake turns and probably something else I forget. Happy days.

The first thing that hit me was how weird it felt initially to wear a helmet inside a car. As a biker, it confused the hell out of my senses with my right hand suddenly looking for throttle and right foot searching for brake. But there was little time for confusion once I hit the track. Even in a relatively compact circuit like Pasir Gudang, you manage to reach speeds of up to 180kmph though surprisingly the straight line speed felt nothing exceptional and was the least daunting thing. Yes there is a thrust, particularly in a sub 7sec to 100kph car but nothing too exceptional if you are a frequent participant of the traffic light grand prix or do regular jaunts up north.

What really messes you up however, are the corners. Initially you take them at what you perceive to be a fairly rapid clip, feeling fairly strong G forces pushing you to one side, only for the instructor to tell you that you are barely scratching the proverbial surface. You increase your corner speeds slowly, convinced that the car is going to go off the road but somehow magically it just sticks.

Honestly I think the most critical part of getting comfortable and fast on a track is getting a good sense of what speed your car can corner at, for it sure as hell doesn't seem logical or possible. And the consequences of overcooking it are very real and grassy..this ain't no need for speed with a restart button. Fortunately much to my instructors relief, I did manage to keep all four wheels on the road at all times though I made all the classic newbie mistakes..braking too early, getting on the power in an on-off rather than linear fashion and the all time favourite of taking fast corners too slow and slow corners too fast.

Part 2 was definitely less 'dangerous' though equally thrilling. After all who doesn't dream of indulging the inner hooligan with handbrake turns, J turns and even a spot of deliberately creating a skid to demonstrate the importance of ABS. Nothing can really prepare you for the first time the instructor does a J turn with you in the car. That moment when you get thrown to one side with such violence really triggers the survival instinct as your body thinks you are in a crash but surprisingly you adapt fast and suddenly the car going out of shape feels scarily normal.

I struggled to perfect my steering and throttle timing on the J turn but surprisingly the handbrake turn came rather naturally (Maybe all those years of being a crazy Colin McRae fan are paying off). But more than the novelty of skidding and siding about the place, the second session was eye opening in the sense of realizing how little space you need to have fun. The entire area where Mini had set up the skid pad was little more than a large carpark. Makes you think of the possibilities even in an urban evironment eh?

At the end of it all, I had two revelations. One was a new found respect for racing drivers and the black art of cornering. Admittedly beginners are easily impressed but things were so difficult in a mere road going Mini, I can't even begin to imagine what a dedicated single seat racing car feels like, let alone a Formula 1 car. Forget the Vettels and Alonsos, even your Hafiz Kohs and Denis Lians are real heroes

The second one was to do with the hithero unapplauded star of the show. I have never really been a Mini person..I feel like it's a triumph of style over substance, its overpriced, cramped and set up stiff enough to knock your teeth fillings out. But boy, can that thing hold its own on the racetrack. No body roll, next to perfect steering feel and accuracy and utterly reliable brakes even after a few laps, even on the Cooper S that accompanied its JCW brother. I was even impressed by the build quality, a bugbear of earlier pre-2006 Minis, with nary a rattle or squeak coming from the cars even after what should be criminally chargable abuse on the skid pad.

Now when can I have a go again? Is there anybody listening out there..pretty please!!

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