Share on:

How to get your start in motorsports

Motor racing doesn’t have to be the preserve of a select few. Given the right steps, the path towards it is very possible – and safe.

Car prices in Singapore are among the most expensive in the world. Despite this notoriety, it has not stopped the mounting number of million-dollar supercars zipping on the city- state’s roads. Whether it’s a Porsche, Maserati, Aston Martin, McLaren, Ferrari or Lamborghini, Singaporeans are willingly flashing the cash for the most powerful machines carmakers can produce.

Many owners of such precision engineering works are petrolheads keenly aware that their prized possessions are not designed for our congested city and suburban streets. Like pedigree racehorses, these need to be able to run at top speeds of up to 300kph now and then to keep their mechanical muscles in optimal condition. So they head to Sepang, Selangor, to stretch the car’s legs on Malaysia’s Formula 1 racing circuit. For some, however, this is not enough.

When the speed bug hits hard, they entertain thoughts of pitting their skills in actual competition against the pros. Fortunately, many racing championship series, including those in Asia and Australasia, allow participants to choose the race they want to compete in without committing to an entire season. It costs a minimum of 25,000 Euros (S$40,375) to participate in an entry-level GT4 racing series.

This includes the use of a racing car, mechanics and hospitality. With motorsports competitions filling the calendar year in the Asia-Pacific, especially in Malaysia, China, Japan and South Korea, the opportunities to race are plentiful. But how can a driver get the most out of a car at top speed and still steer it safely? Two accomplished racing drivers – Melvin Choo and Andrew Tang – offer tips. Choo, 50, is the first Singaporean to race in the FIA World Touring Car Championship, competing in two rounds in 2008.

He also took part in two seasons of the Japan Super GT in 2010 and 2011, and other major series in Asia over five years from 2007. Tang won the 2014 Toyota Racing Series title in New Zealand and the 2011 Asian Open Karting Championship. The 25-year-old was also a member of McLaren’s Young Driver Development Programme in July 2012. At the very top of their list is preparing your car to operate safely in a very demanding environment. Just as important, if not more so, is your physical and mental fitness as a racing driver.

How to go racing

The community of motor racing enthusiasts is growing in Singapore and Asia, says David Sonenscher, CEO of Kuala Lumpur- based Motorsport Asia. His company has been organising racing competitions in Asia since 1997, including Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and TCR Asia Championship, and an event for entry-level racing enthusiasts that was launched last year.

Called Porsche Sprint Challenge Asia, it is the perfect fit for supercar owners who feel they have outgrown track days and want something more. “You can drive a car all day long on track days, but this is only one level of excitement and entertainment,” says Sonenscher. “Competing is another notch up and until you have done this, it is hard to understand the difference.”

Although there are no racing academies in Singapore and Malaysia, he says there are racing instructors who can help prepare drivers keen on taking up motor racing. Sonenscher adds that major carmakers also conduct performance driving courses and this can help enthusiasts make the step up to handle even faster cars.

“In line with our sprint challenge, my company is looking to put into place a programme early next year that we can market to people interested in motor racing. We know there is this necessity, and we have been discussing this project for a while already.” Once novices are ready to go racing, the next step is to get a motorsport licence from a national governing body such as Motor Sports Singapore.

  • How to race better

    BEFORE RACE DAY: Engaging first gear

    Throwing a novice racer in at the deep end is not a dictum in motor racing. It is dangerous and likely to end as a short-lived adventure. Learn to walk first, says Choo, before making any attempt to run.

    Although career drivers usually start with kart racing at a very young age, this does not preclude adults in their 30s and 40s from taking up motor racing in powerful cars. Dutchman Robert Doornbos, who competed in Formula 1 with Minardi and Red Bull in 2005 and 2006, is one such driver without a karting background. “If someone wants to become a race car driver, I’d take him around a racetrack in a manual road car to build his confidence first,” says Choo.

    “The technique of driving does not change whether you are in a regular car, a supercar or a race car. It’s about building someone’s confidence to brake to the limit at high speeds, to negotiate corners and to overtake in a 1.3-litre car before he does the same things in a more powerful car.” Choo explains that people who enter a race without learning the basics of driving to the limit will be overwhelmed, lose confidence and make mistakes because their cars are too fast. He says this takes the fun out of motorsports.

Get going with confidence

The steps towards making the starting grid of competitive racing and surviving that first corner are meant to build confidence. Physical fitness allows a driver to concentrate on racing and make split-second decisions despite the demands it puts on their body. Also, a car that is properly set up allows it to perform to its limit safely. “It is all about confidence and knowing what you are doing,” explains Choo. “If you are not well-prepared, you will lose it and this is where bad accidents happen on the track.”

Related:

Car review: The new Audi A4 focuses on refinement and not evolution

Two new Aston Martins released for No Time To Die

Luxury vehicles receive an update

 

Photo by Carl Jorgensen on Unsplash