Petronas Formula Xperience: What a ball-shrinking Xperience!

Published on September 25th, 2010

It was definitely an experience, no doubt about that, when we sat down in the cockpit of 1-seater FB02 designed specifically for the Petronas Formula Xperience (PFX) drivers. If you have not heard of the program before, here’s a little info for you; the PFX was formed in May 2006 with aims to develop young talents in motorsports.

For us regular folks, it’s a way for Petronas to discover which of the young boys and girls are in possession of an extreme need for speed and G-high-speed-corners-force and fine-tuned them for professional track use.

it was like sitting in a fast microwave. seriously...

Regarding the FB02, it is a single seater Formula car with specifications similar to that of the ones used in Formula BMW. It is classed as an F3 car, with a few specifications exceeding F3 requirements in terms of safety, built and performance. Monocoque chassis is used, with carbon and aramid fibre based construction. Needless to say, this is one safe racing car. They are built for students, anyway.

We were so gracefully invited by the good people from Petronas Motorsports to participate in one-day event to experience what PFX is all about. We immediately built a huge bonfire, held our laptops above our heads and circled the fire fifteen times to give thanks to the God of Speed for the opportunity to trash drive the FB02 car.

It was on a very early Monday morning when my editor gave me a wakeup call. Believe me, when it is your editor who’s giving you a wake up call, you better bloody wake up before it starts ringing again.

In Sepang International Circuit, we were greeted with sausages and orange juice, with morning greetings by the Petronas Motorsports folks. We were assigned to our groups and were briefed by three very tall trainers, and our racing gears were handed to us.

karaoke time boys! nope... it's actually a speech

We learned shortly after that we had to give everything back. Bummer.

Anyway, after a short lesson in Gear-Shifting 101, we were asked to fit our huge asses in the cockpit to ensure perfect fitting in our designated FB02 cars. The PFX drivers were very patient in explaining to us what this button is for and what that lever is for, including questions like “when I shift gear, I’ll have to push the clutch, right?” and “what happens if it rains?” Yes, the car runs on clutch. You think we get to try the pedal shifter or button gear shifters? Wishful thinking, clearly wishful thinking.

It was gear-shifting exercise after that.

We started the engine by switching two switches to ‘on’ (Ignition and Main), and pressing the Starter switch for a few seconds. The engine started roaring, and it was oh-so-lovely. The sweet growl coming from the in-line 4-cylinder K 1200 RS BMW Motorcycle engine was a musical symphony to our ears.

zamri baba gets a taste of four wheelers instead of the usual twos

Knowing that the FB02 runs on single disc dry-clutching system, we knew that we didn’t really need to push the clutch when switching gears, as the transmission system is the same with motorbikes utilising the same system, but we wanted to try out the peculiar heels-n-toe technique.

As the throttle and clutch pedal are very sensitive, there were a lot of over-revving being committed and it did take some getting used to to really drive the car smoothly. Changing gears were made with some difficulties but not too much. It was a little funny considering the gear lever is on the right.

Two short briefings after that, we were allowed to utilise the North Track to really experience the car, but it was with a Coarse Vehicle at first. We had to bite down any bits of temptation to go full blast during the Coarse Run as it was necessary to familiarize ourselves with the car first while navigating corners.

Right after the final briefing, we were told that we would be allowed to overtake on the final Practice run, and the run would be done without a Coarse Car. We saw smiles appearing all around, with locking gazes and slight raise of eyebrows.

After that, it was game on.

We were released a few seconds apart from each other and we let ourselves be consumed by our greedy need for speed and let it ripped.

The FB02 is fantastic, to say the least. The century sprint is done under four seconds, with stability and handling unlike anything we have ever driven before. Everything is perfect, with its very low centre of gravity, wide stance and aerodynamic superiority.

farique hairuman managed to lead group a a staggering two laps!

My editor even had a 360degree spin when he was trying a tip by Farique Hairuman, Petronas Syntium Team driver, by going full blast on fifth gear at Turn 5, but managed to save the car and continued driving. He won’t admit it, but his balls shrunk a bit permanently. Somehow, he managed to finish the course leading the rest by one lap unscathed by the experience.

In the meantime, I began to forget about the clutch and did gear-switching as if he was riding. During the last lap, I had some wiggly problem when my car’s rear end loses traction at Turn 4, but an experience with a totaled Astina and a few tips by the Touge veterans managed to slap my face silly and made me counter-steer and continued driving.

Some corners were taken with impossible speed and we felt courageous for trying. Our balls shrunk a little bit more when we were told that Formula 1 drivers took the corners almost twice the speed we did.

Now with all this experience driving a race-bred car, imagine teenagers from as early as 15-years of age sitting in the cockpit of one of these FB02s, with their talents being honed to the max and participating in full-fledge Formula races over the one year they’re on the program. What a way to develop young motorsport talents, eh? Kudos, kudos to Petronas Motorsport.

seriously my balls turned omelette in here...

Oh, did we tell you our top speed? My editor, Botak, managed to clock 196km/h while I only managed to clock 191km/h. The readings were taken at the very last moment before braking like mad in between 100 to 50metres approaching Turn 1. Yes, it was scary.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to Petronas Motorsport for the opportunity. And thank you for the limited edition gloves too.

words: Al-mu Syahrisyawal Ahmad  pix: Syafril Ismail

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