Never had I thought I would be going to this event, the Michelin Pilot Sport Experience. I have only heard about it and have dreamed of maybe getting a chance to try it out. But what I really dreamed of was to get a chance to drive each different kind of car in an international Formula 1 circuit, to feed my curiosity, and hopefully share the experience to my fellow motorsports students.
Now, never in the world would I have thought of winning an online game to qualify for it either. This was like how those sci-fi movies thought of aligning all the stars in the galaxy or something similar of that in mind. From the online game, to an all expense paid trip, to be part of the 2014 Michelin Pilot Sport Experience, you can’t forget the asteroid hitting planet earth! What I meant was winning the whole event too. So that is a bit of a spoiler if you are new to this blog. I jumped to the end of the story. But I can’t deny the fact, this is how the story went. No surprises, since all the press release came out already.
The online game had to be the most stressful part of the whole thing. You had to look for the proper racing line and click some acceleration and brake buttons here and there, while maintaining quick reaction times. The game was complicated. Imagine just trying the game out. Eventually, you find yourself in a good position, until you just get hooked to the game knowing you might actually have a chance to win it. Now, imagine yourself getting in to the top 3 qualifying places. Suddenly you are doing it everyday and just checking the ranks. When you lose your precious rank, you just try to knock yourself out trying to get get your position back. And if that doesn’t happen within the night or whole day, get ready to find yourself trying harder the following days. The last day is terrible. You are just watching it until the competition closes. At the end, rejoice! Yes, that’s exactly how it went.
So this is a story that was shared by all 25 of us qualifiers, and boy do we hate that game after all of us sharing our experiences. We could once and for all forget the game because after letting that out, we were finally living the dreams as winners of the Right2Race online game!
Michelin were very accommodating to every one of us. There were 25 of us coming from 6 different countries, and what made us a unique group was that we were the first of the consumers to be invited. Not media, not tire suppliers, we were ordinary (or not so ordinary) guys who were car nuts, motorsports fanatics, gamers, and yes, secret race car drivers!
We flew off from Manila to Hong Kong, then to Malaysia via Cathay Pacific.
The Philippine contingent which included Paolo, myself, and Sung Joon were greeted by the local Michelin guy who eventually showed us the quickest way to our 5-star hotel.
Again greeted by several lovely staff of Michelin.
We got to our rooms and found cool stuff.
Not to forget the awesome room.
We then went out on tour in Malaysia’s different tourist spots around KL.
From the Petronas towers and the Skybride at its 41st floor…
to it’s 86th floor.
Dinner was lovely in one of the expensive steak places in town (too bad I didn’t get a good picture of that). But it was on to the next day where by 6 o’clock AM, the lobby was busy ready for our action packed day.
We got to Sepang International F1 Circuit and we were all ready to jump off the bus to get a hold of what was about to come.
After all the formal introduction of the brand, top guys of Michelin, and all the instructors and staff, we were given our race gear! I just love a locker like this!
All of had to pose for a picture. We had to look good as these pictures were those to be submitted to our local papers and online news.
So here is one for my country, the Philippines.
Together in our group for the day were the Indonesians.
The locals from Malaysia…
and last but not the least, well actually they were the least in contingents, Singapore!
We headed to the pit garages and were greeted once again by everyone. This time with even more excitement!
Of course we all had to do the mandatory group picture before everything.
We headed on to our first assignment. Formula 4!
We had to figure out first how to use the sequential paddle shift first the simulator before getting into the real thing. It seemed pretty easy to understand and get the proper timing. I believe this came easy from getting my hands on a PlayStation in my early years.
We went on a tour in a van with one of the instructors showing us around. As a first timer in the Sepang F1 track, I was mesmerized on to see how massive it was. I had to stay focus on what to do despite the that distraction. Where to brake, hit the apex, downshift, etc. were tips that out instructor had given us. I asked if the instructor to go on full race speed but he said the van wasn’t set-up do that. I thought I almost had him caught out to following my request. He was a good instructor.
The instructor showed us instead how to go about the North track of the Sepang F1 circuit in his super car. Each of us followed him using the Formula 4 as he paced us using the Porsche.
With all the fun done it was time to move on to some brand and product knowledge. Michelin wanted to show their newest product, the Michelin Pilot Sport 2. It is a high performance tire good for the road and track and still having to improve the tire in all aspects of performance without having to compromise safety and other performance factors.
After learning about all the big round and black tires, the Michelin team took us on a tour in Sepang Circuit’s facilities and paddock area. They first took us to the lounge.
And then to the biggest media room that I have ever seen. I can only imagine how busy this place can be on a race weekend. It reminds me of an empty school canteen right before recess or lunch.
They took us to the podium steps of the Sepang track. I guess I can now say I stood in the same steps as the modern Formula 1 winners of Malaysia, along with everyone else of course. Everybody wanted to be in the top step!
What happens after the podiums are the post-race interviews in the press room.
We then went to the control room to find all the screens that the FIA stewards might have to review for race incidents and other penalties. I spotted some rallying going on in WRC Finland that time. I didn’t know they were observing that one all the way from Malaysia.
We then went back to the pits and spotted the cars resting… cool sightings.
Next up was the Renault Clio touring cars. The Clio was equipped with a sequential gearbox. It was something I have always wanted to try. Just like the F4, they had let us practice use and feel the sequential shifter.
I was ready to go inside the Clio after visualizing how I had to drive the Clio, but before they let me drive it, they handed me the Toyota 86 production race car!
The 86 was a treat and it is now a car I consider owning maybe sometime in the future. At least the car isn’t highly specialized like the full race-spec Clio. It made it surprisingly easier to drive.
The Clio though was a familiar front wheel drive. Well that is what I thought. Having full Michelin slick tires, everything at full race-spec and everything very stiff, I was surprised how difficult it was to find a proper feeling to the car. Knowing its limits was a real challenge. Nevertheless, it was good fun and the car had to be driven very smoothly.
With that said, the final activity of driving was done on the out skirts of the Sepang F1 Circuit, in a unique dirt track. My main event, rally, was up next. I was excited to try the Citroen C2. It is a common entry level rally car in Europe, especially in France, and I wanted to see what it was like to be driven on dirt. What did I expect? It was a 1600c front wheel drive. Nothing special. Especially with the hand brake gone for safety reasons of Michelin. So driving it was still a good experience since I now knew how the little C2 runs. It is a good entry level car, but I had to change my driving style according to the car. But whatever it was, it was still rally, and of course, I enjoyed every part of it even if I had a difficult time trying to slide the car around with the very good grip of the Michelin rally tires.
We headed back to the pit lane where the other crews were finishing up and doing pit stop challenges. The final adrenaline rush activity we were having was to ride in the hot laps with our instructors behind the wheel. Benjamin Rouget drove the LMP2 prototype endurance car.
Head instructor, Scott Mansell, drove the Lamborghini Super Trofeo. I was able to ride in the passenger’s seat of the Lamborghini and it was something that I did not expect.
The braking was immense, the way Scott Mansell handled the 4wd system and checked the grip levels into the corner were also things I was lucky enough to observed. Of course the over-all sensation of everything in the race car was something just fist-pumping. Now fist-punching in the air while experiencing heavy braking and cornering was something I could never do while driving.
After the hot laps it was time to call it a day from the main track and head over to the paddocks. Most of us in had similar feeling that we did not want the day to end yet, but it was time for the awarding and closing ceremonies. They were about to award three of us in the group as having been rated with high skilled driving and special regard for safety in handling the race cars. I already had a good hunch that I might be in the podium because of the feedback our instructors had been giving me throughout the day. But I did have some small mistakes, which in my mind, I thought I blew my chances of being on the top. It was nerve wracking not to hear my name called. Especially since there were still very viable drivers around to be standing on the top spot. Mr. Tony Menard, Marketing Director of Michelin Passenger Car and Light Truck for Southeast Asia and Oceania, was on the microphone and kept us all a hold of our seats to tell who the winner of the event was. They also reminded us that whoever won the event had a free trip to LeMans 2015. They just kept on going and kept us guessing. When they finally said who won, it took some time to really put it into my head that I was called! I won! For some time my mind and body were somehow not connected while I knew I was still awake. But it happened and it was really awesome. It was just something I tried to register in my mind and things were happening quickly. It was crazy. It felt good and it was nice to know that I did make a lot of friends during this event because it was nice to see smiles on their faces too when I was standing in the podium. I wished that everyone could have experienced it too as the feeling is very unique and it really has been a long time since the last time I have felt something very true to me.
In behalf of everyone from this Michelin group, a big thank you. This is one motorsports experience that can not be forgotten. All of us who participated truly appreciated it because for us, this was not work or business. It was purely just a dream that occurred and became reality!
So those wishing to get their chance to try such an event, I heard Michelin thinking of doing the same thing again the following year. You might want to look out for it online. However, chances are, you would be seeing some of us again trying our best to get another chance! The dream is possible and with that said, we wish you luck!