We were recently invited to Michelin’s Pilot Experience (MPE) program which was held at the Sepang International Circuit.
This yearly event exemplifies Michelin’s commitment in using advanced technology to develop their variety of tires as well as to showcase its involvement in motor sports, as this event aims to bridge the gap between customers, partners as well as the public at large with the French tire manufacturer.
The MPE program, which is held for 2 weeks in September 2008, offers participants a “once in a lifetime” experience to take part in various activities, such as Racing Simulation drive with Professional Race Car Drivers (R Factor Race Simulation), a Go-Kart race, Pit Stop Challenge, having a go in a GT5 race car, and the ultimate chance of being behind the wheel of Formula Renault single-seater.
Participants will also be driven in a two-seater Formula Renault and in a Porsche Carrera Cup race car by professional race car drivers such as local A1 GP driver Aaron Lim, Aston Martin Asia Cup’s Series Director and Classic Car Series driver, Ian Geekie and Asia Supercar Club series and F3 driver Rodolfo Avila.
The event started off as early as 7.30am the North Track of the Sepang F1 Circuit, and after having to do some serious, tiring work the day before, I was just hoping that the event would feed my always hungry passion for racing.
As soon as I arrived, I was greeted with breakfast and a good dry weather. Soon after all the participants were divided into two teams and then we were given our racing attire for the day. After a quick medical examination for blood pressure (luckily I managed to control my excitement) and driver briefing, we were sent down to the Pit Garages where Rodolfo Avila explained to us how to get into the Formula Renault and operate it. Soon after that we had the Go-Kart qualifying session. I am happy to say that I qualified for Finals, even with a certain “off track” incident.
Next was the ultimate drive, the Formula Renault. Each participant had to go out alone, with the guidance of a safety car, which was a BMW M3 coupe. Anxiously waiting for my turn, I was finally called in. I was in the car, buckled up and ready to go. As soon as I was on track, my expectations of it being difficult to drive faded away, as I learned that the car was rather easy to drive (of course they brought the rpm limit down for the event), as long as I knew my lines, braking and acceleration points, and not to over rev the 2 litre, 196 bhp engine when exiting a slow corner (such as Turn 2 and 3).
I went on for 4 laps, being close to the M3 safety car (fitted with all weather tires) which I realized that the driver was pushing the car to its limits when I noticed how fast he was going and when the M3?s rear end stepped out twice. The car felt very powerful for a 2.0 litre engine and the 6 speed sequential (although not as easy to operate as our road cars) gearbox’s gear change was very smooth. The balance was just about right with practically no under steer and very little over steer.
It was exhilarating! I was screaming my lungs out saying “Yeah baby! Woohoo!” As soon as I got out of the car, Mr. Ian came up to and said “you were a little too close, you are a good driver, try to keep the distance”. It was such an amazing experience.
Next on the list was a Michelin Quiz where most of the questions were Michelin related, aimed to broaden the participants’ knowledge about the recently appointed tire supplier for the A1 Grand Prix series. Did you know Michelin first started out making bicycle tires and their “Michelin Man” logo was based on a combination of the shape of a beer mug and tires stacked on top of one another?
We adjourned for lunch and the weather turned for the worse as it started to drizzle. Due to bad weather conditions, officials had to red flag the Go-Kart finals and they also had to reduce participation for the two-seater Formula Renault and the Porsche Carrera Cup ride.
We all then continued with the Pit Stop Challenge where we got the chance of being the very crucial; pit mechanics of an F1 team for a moment. Last but definitely not least, we got to try the GT5 race cars (fitted with Suzuki motorbike engines), and this time, on a fully wet race track.
Before I got into the GT5 race car, I was told that this car bites if you’re not gentle with the throttle by other participants who had already taken it for a ride. I wasn’t sure that was it due to the very basic nature of the car or just the weather. Anyway, as I got in, left the pits, and tackled Turn 3, I spun on the exit! Guess what? Too much throttle!
Soon after that I quickly learned its characteristics and started having more fun with it, although this time I was planning on not being too close to the safety car because, one; I was cautioned, and two; because it was too slippery.
The event gloriously ended at 5.30pm, and I really had a great time. More importantly, it was a special day for many of the participants since to be part of a day like that is either almost impossible, or plain downright expensive.
Definitely looking forward to next year’s event!
PHOTO GALLERY: Michelin Pilot Experience 2008
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