- Atharva Desai
My Racing Experience At Sepang
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Malaysia was quite a unique experience. Before I shifted to the UK to pursue my education, I only traveled a little to other countries if necessary. Before university, I had gone to 3 countries (including India). I had never flown overseas to do any business or work; it was always either vacationing or visiting family. That being said, three countries are plenty compared to the average household, but my trip to Malaysia and India were neither for vacation nor for visiting family. Both trips were to meet with my teams and reach out to potential sponsors. Nonetheless, I enjoyed both countries to the fullest. In this article, I’ll simply focus on my time in Malaysia and then mention my experience in India in another article.
I left for India on the 8th of November and reached on the 9th. To get used to the time zones, I rested in India for two days and stayed at my chachu’s place (‘Chachu’ is Uncle in Marathi). Chachu was excited to see my race in Malaysia, so he came with me. We left for Malaysia on the 12th and stayed at the hotel airport. I loved right off the bat that the race track is barely a 15-minute drive from the airport. We stayed at the Sama Sama hotel, and we would drive to the track or race days:
Google maps a view of Sepang Circuit, Sama Sama hotel, and the airport.
Test days were on the weekends spread across 1.5 weeks. 4 test days in total, with over 75 laps of seat time every day. Between the two weekends, we went sightseeing in Kuala Lumpur. Let's break down the entire 1.5 weeks with some good pictures along with it:
First, we started with a seat fit on the 13th of November. The 14th was the first test day, so we crafted a seat a day prior. As soon as I sat in the car, I immediately felt uncomfortable with the car. Let me explain…
Now I felt two things right off the bat. The steering wheel of the South East Asia F4 cars is farther away than those of the USF4s and GB4s. I was used to driving with the steering wheel close to my chest. I keep my chest close to the steering wheel even for my daily driving car. It makes the shifter feel comfortable, and I get more control driving. I had to reach out to hold the steering wheel in this car. It felt uncomfortable. When I specified this to my engineer AG, he said that the SEA cars require you to reach out for the wheel, unlike the GB4 cars which are close to your body and must use your arms more than your shoulders to drive.
Seat Fitting Foam
The second and minor thing that was uncomfortable was the humidity. It was unbelievably humid in Malaysia, and the exothermic reaction of the foam solution was not helping either. Nonetheless, I got used to it in due time.
Days 1 & 2
I was in the first stages of getting used to the track and the car. A 2+ minute track was quite demanding, but it was one of my favorite circuits on the simulator. Early morning, the track was damp and drizzling. I went out on the rain tires, and I could feel how slippery the track was. Regardless, I wasn’t driving for the lap times yet; I started getting a feel of the track and the car.
Nothing eventful happened other than getting some excellent and mature lap timings. I gradually started increasing my pace and started memorizing my reference points. I took this seat time to maximize my rhythmic breathing along with my braking and turning points. I carefully observed the different pavements on the track, the width, and the paint marks around it. As I returned to the pits, I took a good breather and took out my track map. I wrote down every point I saw, took note of, and even made some visuals to make it readable. I wrote down the condition of the track, temperature, and time of day. I used a new track map for every end of the session for the next 4 days, and I have it in my racing journal for reference. After the 2nd session, I went on to use data to improve my lap time and I work very well with numbers.
I’ve said this a lot, and I’ve even gone into more detail about my routine in a recently posted interview (Click here to watch). I think of myself a5s a very calculated person. I consider everything as working with numbers. While people can make me understand anything with words, I will always believe the numbers in front of me. I’ve noticed that I understand things in plain numbers, and I let my mind analyze them for me. Whether it be any financial document, science data table, or racing telemetry, I can perfectly analyze what I must do and predict what I can do in the future. I once again proved that my talent for learning quickly and applying data to the track is one of my greatest weapons. That, alongside my consistency, got me this far into racing and will be one of my signature abilities in racing.
After every session, I only got faster and started bravely navigating corners. It was reassuring to see myself perform this well on Sepang. Like I said before, it was one of my favorite tracks on the sim but also one of the hardest to master. It is such a unique track because, on every lap, it is a different type of corner. It is a unique combination of low, mid, and high-speed corners.
After the end of the second day, I was already clocking times as fast as the Ferrari Academy drivers. I was told that a few months ago, the Ferrari Driver Academy was testing on the track with better conditions on the same car. My lap times put me up into the top split of the academy times, and I was extremely close to the top 5 driver’s lap times by the end of the day.
Days 3 & 4
Days 3 and 4 were the same. I spent four laps on day three dialing back into the car and then went straight to hotlapping. One thing I forgot to mention is the track conditions every day. At this time, Malaysia always rains at night. The cycle is a damp morning followed by a scorching and humid afternoon and evening and a cloudy late evening. This was the cycle that followed every day. This meant that whatever rubber was left on the track yesterday will have been washed off by the next morning. Every day, every driver on the track has to contribute by putting down some rubber before they can set their best times. The same was for me, I pushed my car to the absolute limit every lap, but there was only so much that could be done. I pushed the car and the boundaries as much as possible and eventually ended up spinning while asking too much from the car. Since it isn’t a fast car, I didn’t get any snap oversteer, but while playing with the weight distribution contributing to tire grip, I asked too much and ended up countersteering through a turn. No damage was done to the car, and as I spun into the gravel trap and into a halt, I knew immediately what my limits were and what I had done wrong. After I got back into the pits to clean out the gravel from the car, I noted why I spun on my track map and how to prevent making that same mistake again.
By the end of the 4th day, I once again proved my skills to myself and the team around me. I felt extremely confident with the car, and I was experienced with the track. The soft skills I practiced beforehand - breathing, spacial awareness, and memorization - were coming to show on the track. I was very pleased with my results, and I built up my confidence in proving my skills again.