F4 and Petron out on the track

By JAY WONG | 18 July 2018

IT had been some months since getting behind the wheel of a Formula 4 (F4) car.

It was still possible to vividly reminisce about the race car’s on-track behaviour and how I was more perched on top of the seat while behind the wheel due to an improper seat-size session.

This time it was not to be a repeat thanks to the efforts of Petron Malaysia, which happens to be the official fuel and engine oil partner of F4 South East Asia, with its Petron Blaze 100 petrol (RON 100) and fully-synthetic Petron Blaze racing engine oil.

Petron F4 test - 09
Prior to the start of the season, the fuel and lubricants maker from the Philippines held a track day for motoring journalists to have a solo session in the single-seater F4 race car around the venerable Sepang International Circuit.

As temperatures soared past 35-degrees Celsius, the sun was litterally burning the backs of those who ventured out into the open - no thanks to the clear blue skies.

With everyone’s sweat glands having opened its flood gates, I was almost ‘swimming’ in a racing suit while being capped off with a helmet.

The repeated clambering in and out of the car to fine tune my seat fitting only exasperated the situation.

Petron F4 test - 01
After a quick run-through about the steering wheel’s controls, flipping two switches and a quick push of a button brings the 180hp 2.0-litre water and air-cooled naturally-aspirated F4RSEA Renault engine to life.

Quickly, one of the pit crew members finally points directly at me and shows the direction to take.

Mashing my left foot against the extremely stiff clutch, I pull on the left paddle-shifter to shift the six-speed Sequential Sadev gearbox into first. My calf muscle struggles to slowly balance it out without stalling the engine.

A light blip of the accelerator pedal and I’m finally rolling down the pitlane with the speed limiter engaged and a mixture of feelings.

On the one hand I’m glad to be finally catching some ventilation yet on the other, I’m worried as to how I’d do throughout the entire session.

Petron F4 test - 19
Coming out of the pit lane exit, my vision remains blurry, courtesy of the engine and exhausts’ vibrations.

I disengage the limiter and my head is immediately pinned against the back as I floor the throttle towards the tight ‘S’ corners of turns one and two.

After getting hard on the brakes, the slick Hankook tyres haven’t gotten enough heat in them, making it hard to tuck the nose into the corner.

After going through the first right-hander, as soon as I took the next off-cambered left at roughly 60kph, the rear-end suddenly snaps out sending me into a 270-degree spin.

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Thankfully, staying on the brakes kept me away from the barriers.

Clearly the tyres were still too cold and after getting back on track, it was time to warm things up - ala Formula One style.

Keeping the car in third gear, the left foot maintained some pressure on the brake pedal to heat it up for better bite, while the left foot kept constant on the throttle as I ‘jinked’ the car left and right to put some heat into the tyres.

Coming out of turn 15, the last corner of the track, it’s hard on the accelerator to mark the official start of my 40-ish minute-long stint while getting sun-baked in the “Blaze”-ing heat. Excuse the pun.

Mid-way through, my (advised) 100m braking-point was getting closer to the 50m mark after getting a little more accustomed to the car’s behaviour in terms of performance, braking and cornering.

Petron F4 test - 27
My lap times were also slowly improving as I began to tear through the corners faster than what I had initially experienced all those months before.

During the stint, the air temperature began to fall as droplets of rain began tapping against my helmet, which partially marred my vision.

The slick tyres were now begging for more heat as the track temperature began cooling off too due to its damp state.

The rain also rendered the red and white curbs ‘off-limits’ due to their new slippery nature.

Soon after, having built a good rhythm out on the track, it was time for the chequered flag to come down as I flash by at almost 200kph down the start-straight - signalling the end of my session after clocking an average of two minute 33 seconds.

Petron F4 test - 31
Finally, after making it back into the pits, the rain began to come down hard as I quickly rid myself of the racing suit, gloves, balaclava, helmet and shoes.

It was straight into the cool air-conditioned room where I allowed to have any excess heat robbed of me while I sank my teeth into a succulent red apple.

After having fought with the non-powered steering wheel to man-handle the car and keep it stable - whether in a straight line or snaking through the bends, the palms of my hands were starting to twitch from the effects.

Not to mention, the outside of my knees were also starting to see signs of bruising. It was from all those slight tapping against the inside of the cockpit while shooting through the corners.

As the rain subsided, it was time to head home and the drive back was a slow and sombre one.

Petron F4 test - 28
Not even the radio was turned on with all of my driving aggression having been ‘exorcised’ from my system.

The mere presence of silence was strangely calming as my mind began to wonder about how my lap times could have been improved.

The possibilities of going up against younger drivers just didn’t seem feasible, although I do have the advantage of having better mechanical grip from the tyres thanks to my weight.

But the mere fact that these drivers are probably about half my weight (and age) just made it seem even more daunting.

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So although it is very likely that I am simply too far from being competitive - where power-to-weight ratios are crucial, being in the F4 race series is simply an essential part of gaining some crucial ‘racing exposure’ for any young aspiring future would-be top-gunners in the world of motor racing.

Such championships such as this is often used by young 15 to 19 year-old karters as their first step to advancing themselves into formula racers or even other racing categories that include LMP1, GT1 as well as F1.

Nonetheless, the opportunity to have properly driven a F4 race car was simply a priceless experience - albeit again, and a definite tick for one of the boxes.