Published on September 11th, 2013 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
Michelin Pilot Sport Experience 2013, New Found Respect For Race Car Drivers
The Michelin Pilot Experience has been running around Asia since 2008 and over 3000 lucky people like us have had the experience behind the wheel of various race cars. This exclusive event is headed by Jean Regis, the Asia-Pacific Motorsport Manager for Michelin. Regis started his journey with Michelin way back in 1971 where he joined as technical staff in the rubber and mixing department. In 1986 Regis became a Michelin test driver, during which time he was made in-charge of testing tyres that were especially manufactured to tackle harsh winters and snow. While spending most part of his life on circuits around the world and driving for key rally teams, Regis has also conducted several workshops, testing the latest Michelin tyres.
Michelin was strict about punctuality and we were late…not too late to suit up, yes a full race suit, shoes, gloves and then a blood pressure check and quick medical questionnaire. I still thought it was a lot of ‘drama’ for the media and invited guest from the region to experience but their reasons were valid as we found out after a few hours.
A quick coffee, briefing on our days activities and we started with the rally course. We were strapped into a retired rally car with full FIA regulation features. The track was tight and we were off…..what a ‘rush’, this little rally car was not the fastest car were have even driven, but with the rally spec terrain Michelin tires, we were taking in corners with a smile and regaining quick control when we drove beyond our ability on the slippery surface.
The next stage was the Renault Clio cup car. With a Renault Clio Cup car there was a 6-speed sequential gearbox that demanded a quick training session with an instructor. No clutch needed on the upshifts from 1st to 6th but on the downshifts you need to use the clutch and work the gear. The 2-litre normal aspirated engine is good for around 220hp (the showroom car does 200bhp). It runs from 0-100km/h in just 4 seconds and it shares most of its engineering with the Formula Renault 2.0L race car we were going to drive after lunch. The Clio cup car is however heavier at 1,000 kg (but much lighter than the showroom Clio RS). This front-wheel-driven hatchback with a full roll-cage it is also a little taller, which means there is some body roll, although when compared with a production model it is virtually unnoticeable. The Clio Cup cars carried 18-inch Michelin slick tires.
We got into it, strapped ourselves tight and chased our lead car around the back half of the Sepang circuit. You immediately feel the power delivery as it is quick from 2nd to 3rd gear. The gear change needs muscle just like the steering wheel and there is so much to take in before the 1st hard right hand corner. Exiting too fast, we spun a full turn and facing back the right way we engaged 1st gear and chased down our lead car. Along the fast curves the handling was spot-on (for a rookie like me) with little need to flick the steering left and right. By the 2nd lap we were more in tune with the corners using the right gears. The Clio picked up its pace and returned more excitement as we hit higher speeds and closed our gap with the pace car. The ‘rush’ was prematurely reduced as we were signalled to enter the pits to allow others to experience this ‘adrenalin rush’.
Next was lunch….which was of no interest to us as the tarmac was calling us. An hour of frustrating eating and then to a quick briefing in a simulator Formula Renault. We climbed into the tight space and found our pedals. A quick tutorial on the gearshifts (this time we needed to use the clutch for both upshifts and downshifts). We suited up, got our helmet on tight (we needed to have a really tight helmet fit to ensure the helmet does not get loose during high speed driving as there is no windscreen), and we were off…….turn 1 and the pressure started, 2nd gear, accelerate, ready turn 2 and full acceleration and quick with the gears to 6th as we headed to the next tight turn. The brakes were responsive and we really feeling right at home. The next few minutes seemed to run forever, our helmet was not tight enough as we hit the straights at top speed; our helmet was pulling up a little. We were just skating around the tight turns as the torque held our speed between gear shifts. Before we could get really comfortable, it was time to get back into the pits for the next driver to experience our unforgettable drive.
Thank you Michelin for the experience and for the sore back (you need to be physically fit to race and we were not).