Track & the Feels : Couples Therapy at the Sepang F1 Circuit [PTG]

By topgear, 14 September 2017

Carmen & Levi discover that a Traction Circle Club trackday in a BMW M135i is great couples therapy

SEPANG F1 CIRCUIT, MALAYSIA – There’s couples counselling and then there’s couples therapy, but not every couple (and let’s face it, not every guy) takes to it. The reality is that every relationship is different, and so's the recipe needed to keep it alive and exciting. Whether you’ve got a good thing going, or just need to spice things up, we believe it may be high time to get out on the road, take some risks and live happily ever after.
Now here’s the catch – by road, I mean the tarmac of the Sepang F1 International Circuit. And by risks, we mean putting on a helmet, getting into your car and hopping onto the circuit. The truth is, I never thought the day would come that I would set foot on the F1 track with my favourite person.

A trackday as couples therapy? This doesn’t cross the minds of many couples, especially since the activity is better associated with guys – tagalong WAGs who don’t manage to get out of it for a shopping day at Bt Bintang tend to spend a lot of time cloistered in the pit area in sympathetic companionship.

The more I thought about it, the better it sounded – my partner Levi was less convinced! It would be a huge step out of our comfort zone and a great way to get our adrenaline pumping together; most importantly, our lives were in the hands of one another... as it rightly should be for a happy-ever-after.

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Fortunately for us, we had the pleasure of a private guided session with the Traction Circle Club, or TCC. If you’re unfamiliar with the group, it’s a Singapore-registered club on a mission to improve the driving skills of petrolheads, mostly by organising trackdays and the occasional sanctioned race at the Sepang Circuit. The TCC’s strict levels of discipline is legendary, so even with a turnout of approximately 120 participating cars during the August track session, its members can rest assured that the Club has their welfare and safety at heart.
(Click HERE to find out more about the Traction Circle Club)

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If you don’t already know, track days typically start at the crack of dawn and there’s something cathartic about leisurely heading to the circuit with my loved one on a Monday morning, while most people are dealing with the blues during morning rush hour.
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At the pit building, we were greeted by a group of volunteer instructors that isn’t only passionate about cars, but takes pride in guiding newbies around the track… or anyone else for that matter.
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We park our BMW M135i in the pit, and as part of our trackday experience, the driver’s safety and regulations briefing is conducted by Mark, a seasoned driver and racer, which is intended to equip us with the basics for track survival. With Mark to teach us the ins and outs of the circuit, we were confident that our first track outing as a couple would turn out to be the best we could hope for.

(Click HERE to read about the time we tackled the Stelvio Pass in the M235i)

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With the track management enforcing a strict two-person-a-car rule, I couldn’t head out on the circuit with Levi for his introductory lap. It was my turn soon enough, and Mark took me through two laps in the M135i to explain the nuances of accelerating and braking around the circuit. Once we got the hang of the car on track and were given the basics in dealing with under- and oversteer, it was time for us to get behind the wheel!
Mark stayed silent throughout to make a mental note of our strengths and weaknesses. I clocked 3 minutes 14 seconds on my first outing, and it was a lot harder to judge my speed without a lead car, but this only made for an even more exciting ride since there were no boundaries.

Now for the breakdown: Mark took me on a detailed run to show me where I could lose a little more time, and by the end of our session I managed 3 minutes 4 seconds – a marked improvement that I’m quite proud of.

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On a more personal note, Levi and I entered this ‘couple’s therapy’ at my ed’s behest with the aim of unlocking very different achievements. Now, I’d only ever been to the Sepang track with various car brands before today, but tended to play ‘follow-the-leader’ in convoy drives around the circuit, so I wanted to build my confidence so as to be able to tackle Sepang on my own.
On Levi’s part, as this was his virgin experience at the track, being able to master the lines while pushing the limits of his beloved M135i to test its performance capabilities was important to him, and ultimately having fun with me while at it.

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Now, what was our instructor's name again?? :D
Before long, Mark assured us we were confident enough to head out into the deep ocean on our own. If you ask me, it couldn’t have been a more intimate date (especially one where the guy shows this much attention and concentration); it gave us the opportunity to create an undeniably stronger bond, put trust in one another, and be able to tackle the racetrack as a couple.

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When my lady first proposed we take our M135i to the Sepang F1 Circuit (just five months into our ownership of the car) I thought it was madness… as with most of her proposals. However, as with any situation in life, one thing I’ve learnt is that you should never doubt your lady. In retrospect, joining the TCC trackday has scored me two strong relationship goals: one with the car, and the other with ‘Carmen’.

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The thought of taking the M135i up north was intimidating at the beginning – especially since I knew the group consisted of veteran drivers who had many racing tricks up their sleeves.

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With this as my first track-driving experience, I was more cautious than usual, but a large part of my enjoyable time spent at Sepang is attributed to TCC veteran and our instructor Mark, who patiently taught me what I needed to know as a freshman – he made my virgin outing less painful than it could have been...

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Mark introduced me to the basics of track driving: finding the right lines, using every available inch of the track width, braking hard and accelerating at full throttle. The biggest takeaway from his instruction was that a fast time comes as a reward to a smooth driver, so i practiced hard to work the steering wheel and pedals in as linear a fashion as possible. The entire exercise was a great opportunity for me to ace coordinating shifting gears, tackling a sharp bend, checking my blind spots through a full-faced helmet, yet keeping a decent speed throughout.

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Apart from keeping to my lines, it was an eye-opener to see how there’s generally no lane discipline on the track (although you hardly see this on Singapore roads these days) – particularly in the corners.
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With guidance from Mark, I also learnt that on occasions where I wanted a more relaxed lap, it was good etiquette to signal and let faster cars pass. With a horde of fast cars and even faster drivers out on track at any given time, heeding that advice kept me ‘predictable’ so as not to interfere with the fun or timing runs of faster cars by slowing them down.

After implementing what I’d learnt on the free and easy laps, the subsequent laps with the lady were the most memorable. Spending those fruitful laps with Mark allowed me to gain the confidence I needed to head out on my own.

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With a better understanding of my car’s limits (as well as my own), it was great to be able to push my M135i to my full potential. While going at it, having my lady in the passenger seat with me, or vice versa when she took to the wheel, was an enriching step to have taken as a couple… and certainly beats the usual shopping-dinner-movie routine for the average date.

For someone with zero experience on the track, there couldn’t have been a better team than the one at TCC to take me through my virgin outing at the Sepang circuit. And for what it’s worth, I have to grudgingly admit that sometimes, the lady can be right...
(Click HERE to find out more about the Traction Circle Club)

STORY Carmen Rosso

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