As F1 fever takes hold once again and Singapore ushers in its third night race, Jonathan Tan finds out why hundreds of amateur trackers are heading to Johor, and meets the mechanics pimping their rides
First published on 3 Sep 2010. Updated on 4 Sep 2010.
Track Days organiser Jeremy Ng prepares me for action as I don my helmet and strap myself into his stock Suzuki Swift Sport. ‘When we get onto the track, brace your legs on the foot panel if the G-force gets too strong.’
As mechanics give the car a final once-over before we head out onto the wet circuit, the smell of rubber and the whirr of the engines amid the hive of activity in the garage conjures up images of an F1 race. My boyish excitement goes into overdrive as Jeremy slams the accelerator onto the floor and we begin our three ‘hot laps’, leaving the pit lane behind in a small puff of smoke.
Contrary to popular belief, motorsport in Singapore is not limited to Kartright Speedway (511 Upper Jurong Rd; 6265 3303, www.kartright.com) or the Daytona Go-Kart attraction at Escape Theme Park (1 Pasir Ris Cl; 6581 9112, www.escapethemepark.com). For hobbyist petrolheads who crave something more ambitious, Track Days, held at Johor Circuit in Pasir Gudang, offers car owners the chance to notch up laps on a challenging 3.8km racetrack in their own car for a fee of around RM100-RM150 (S$43-S$64).
There are loads of car enthusiasts in Singapore who make modifications to their cars to improve their performance for better safety on the roads,’ Jeremy tells me when we meet a week earlier in his garage. ‘Events like Track Days offer them a chance to put these technical improvements to the test and, most
importantly, get a taste of racing on a track in their own cars.’
Jeremy is events organiser for sister companies Derrick Motor Works (DMW) and DKC Ji Dou Sha (DKC) who specialise in, well, ride-pimping: prepping their clients’ cars for a day of time-trialled track racing at circuits like the one at Johor. Typical preparations include a full car servicing to ensure perfect running condition while tyres and seats are changed to enhance performance and make the car tracksafe. As Jeremy says, it’s not just about checking oil levels. ‘We need to make sure our clients can push their cars to the absolute max without causing any technical problems.’
Singapore’s stringent road rules, innumerable traffic lights and ERP gantries on every major road are making the short trips to circuits in Malaysia ever more popular. Derrick Ng (Jeremy's father), owner of both DMW and DKC, reckons it’s a great way to learn defensive driving. ‘You can get to know your car more intimately, so if situations arise on the public roads, you have the skills, experience and confidence to deal with them.’
Back in the car, Jeremy is expertly negotiating the turns and bends along the track. With each bank, I hear the whish of the gearbox and the roar of the engine as he brakes hard and deftly switches gears. G-force and adrenaline merge together as we thrash around the track with other drivers overtaking us in their wildly souped up, mostly Japanese-made cars (‘spare parts for Japanese makes are easily accessible and cheap,’ Jeremy says).
But the wet track finally gets the better of us. Despite early braking to compensate for less traction, one of the tyres loses purchase on the track and we spin off into a grass patch at high speed. Fortunately, no damage done; we’re fine. But it’s at this point it strikes me that, if adrenaline does have a colour, it’s definitely brown.
Back in the pit garage, Frankie the mechanic shares the finer points of track racing. ‘Of course, there are distinctions between cars,’ he says, ‘but it doesn’t matter how many horses there are under the bonnet. It’s ultimately about how skilled the driver is.’ I ask how a driver could improve. ‘Come and drive on the track more often lor,’ he says with a cheeky grin.
I wander out onto the track as fellow first-timer Leon steps out of his car with an almost hypnotic, otherworldly glare on his face. He heads towards me. ‘It was amazing,’ he exclaims dreamily. ‘I’ll definitely be back!’ He won’t be the only one.
Derrick Motor Works and DKC Ji Dou Sha, Blk 9002, #01-72/#01-66, Tampines St 93, Tampines Industrial Park A (6260 0256, www.derrickmotorworks.com). For more information on Track Racing at Johor Circuit, Pasir Gudang see www.johorcircuit.com.my.