Michelin Pilot Sport Experience
COUNTER FLOW - James Deakin (The Philippine Star) - November 24, 2015 - 9:00am

I’ve been to many driving events where they check your license, and a lot of international launches where they’ll even check up on your advanced driving experience, but this was the first time I’ve been to an event where they checked your blood pressure. Seriously.

Welcome to the Michelin Pilot Sport Experience (MPSE): an advanced driving event organized and run by the Michelin racing team that is designed to soil the pants of even the most seasoned motoring journalist. I’ll give you a moment to remove that image.

The first time I was invited to join the MPSE by the folks of Michelin Philippines, I figured it would be just another patronizing driving event that had about as many risks as the lunch buffet. But after one of my colleagues was told he would not be able to participate in the event due to his high blood pressure––despite being flown over specifically for this occasion––I realized that these guys weren’t fooling around.

This was a lot more than a PR exercise alright; this was a showcase of not just everything the tires are capable of, but more importantly everything the company stands for. Over the next few hours, we would be delving into the very soul of Michelin, which is competition in its purest form, and coming out with an unprecedented level of respect for the brand.

The event is hosted in various race tracks around the world, with our leg being held at the Sepang International Raceway. Four teams of about 10 people each donned on the custom made racing suits with special racing shoes and given specific driving tasks to complete. We were all given expert instruction by a team of Michelin Cup drivers and Formula Renault drivers, including a simulation in a mock up Formula Renault car just to learn where everything was and how to operate it. Once the basics, like gear changing and braking were covered, we were strapped into a proper, race-ready Formula Renault car, given just enough time for a Hail Mary, an Our Father and a Glory Be, and let loose on one of the fastest tracks in Asia.

First up was the Formula Renault. They strap me in tight and bark out some last-minute instructions. It comes across as gibberish through the padded crash helmet, but I give a thumbs-up because it seems like the expected gesture. The acceleration is raw, course and impressive, but it’s no more devastating than many super cars like a 911 Turbo, or a modified STi or Evolution. But lovely as it all is, that’s not we you’re shopping for in one of these. It’s the cornering and braking forces that take center stage. It is so suffocating that the uninitiated need to lift off, causing either an embarrassing spin or diluting the incredible experience of just how much those damn tires are willing cling on to the road.

We were given several laps to play in the Formula Renault car, followed by several laps in a Clio Cup car that they use in the Renault World Series, and capped the day off with a few laps in purpose-built rally car on a specially deigned dirt rally circuit.

Here we learned the basics of rallying, the sideways action, and the importance of communicative grip levels from the special tires. The event went off like an F1 pit stop: safe, synchronized and playing out flawlessly thanks to an incredibly impressive display of team work. World class, championship-winning racing drivers were on hand for expert advice and drove the pace cars to within an inch of their lives to give us the time of ours, and then evaluated our progress individually throughout the day and graded it accordingly. At the end of an exhilarating day, team Philippines walked away with an unbroken streak of being on the podium with second place, and another championship trophy to cap off an incredible driving experience.

The Pilot Experience is held annually and is strictly an invitational event. It is a testament to Michelin’s approach to competition and is a microcosm of everything the company stands for, which is not just a step in the right direction, but a better way forward.

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