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CarWale Track day 2016 An Introduction

CarWale Track day 2016 An Introduction

4 months ago

Hello and welcome to the inaugural CarWale Track Day. To say it was challenging to pull this off would be a big understatement. The planning started over three months back. Shortlists were drawn, calls were made, cars were arranged, track was booked, and then as the D-day drew closer, things started to fall apart…

The challenge…

First, there was demonetisation, which meant carmakers couldn’t truck their cars to the track for the lack of cash. Many dropped out. Then some incidents happened – chipped windscreens, shagged tyres and busted brakes – at other events, which too were using the cars, we needed. These dropped out as well. But, after a lot of convincing, altering storylines, and in fact, driving cars down to the track, we had what we needed; different classes, different body styles, and in fact, different fuel options, but all very exciting cars to drive. Then when we arrived at the track, Cyclone Nada struck. The forecast for the next three days – the exact time frame we had hired the track for – was of heavy rains, cyclonic winds and gloomy days… But, we decided to make the best of it anyway. We did have a racetrack all to ourselves for three days and a fine selection of cars, after all…

The why…

Why are we doing this? Well, as a brand CarWale is all about helping you choose the right car for your needs, be it for city commute, highway driving, transporting the family or just a great ownership experience. And to do that, we put every new car through rigorous testing. Testing them for real world fuel efficiency, acceleration and braking abilities, and comfort, space and practicality. But, there’s one kind of buyer that needs more. The buyer who truly enjoys driving; one who is looking for FUN over all else from his or her next purchase. And that means to appease this special buyer we have to throw everything we just spoke about, out of the window. Instead, we need to talk on-the-edge handling; late braking performance; and, of course, the ultimate lap time. And, what better place to gauge all of this, than a racetrack.

The track…

Welcome then to Chennai. Welcome to the MMRT or the Madras Motor Race Track. Now, the MMRT measures less than 4km. But, even in such a short length, it packs in a lovely mix of fast and slow corners, and enough variation in the form of smooth and bumpy surfaces, changing radii corners and flowing chicanes, that can both put a smile on your face (if you get it right) and the fear of god in you. Not to mention, it is challenging for the cars too. There is the bumpy C1, the never-ending and infamous D, and the ever-tightening C10 wherein getting the right line is paramount to have any hope of setting a good lap time.

The driver…

Yes, a good lap time. And it’s a lot easier said than done. Therefore, to do it right, we needed someone who lives, breathes and devours racetracks. We needed someone who can push the cars to their limit, consistently, lap after lap. We needed a racer of repute and charm. We needed Aditya Patel. Aditya Patel is easily the most down to earth, approachable and sensible racecar driver we have met. And, make no mistake, he is a star! Currently, he drives in the highly competitive Audi R8 LMS cup with numerous podiums and race wins under his belt. And in the past, he has also competed and won in racing series like the Volkswagen Scirocco R-Cup, Polo Cup, Formula BMW Pacific and the coveted 24 hours of Nurburgring in 2012. But, his biggest plus is that he is an intelligent racecar driver. And, that means his analysis for all our contenders on the track should be incisive and conclusive.

The cars…

Now, to the cars in question. Firstly, we shied away from C-segment sedans and SUVs of all types for these are more about practicality and comfort, and less about ‘fun’. The cars that matter here are hatchbacks. The body style, the short overhangs, the wheels-at-the-corner stance gives them an edge over their three box friends when it comes to handling at the limit. We have split the hatchback group here into two categories. The regular, affordable ones, ones that the public at large can both aspire to and afford. Then there are the true hot hatches; hatchbacks that can clock over 200 kph and promise more smiles per kilometres than a few sports cars! Finally, we have a couple of sedans. Now, I know we said we left C-Segment sedans out of this contest because a three box just doesn’t work as well as a hatch, especially on a racetrack. But, when you have nearly 500 Nm of torque, a front-engine-rear-wheel-drive layout, and enough man-car connect to put a smile on your face every time you drive one around a corner, you must have them.

The hatchbacks…

In the hatch category, we have the Fiat Punto and the Ford Figo. But the Punto isn’t your run-of-the-mill one, mind. With its fancy stickering, scorpion badging and lovely wheels, the Punto Abarth is a rocket courtesy its 145 bhp, 1.4-litre, turbocharged petrol engine. And its claim to fame is a 0-100 kmph time of less than 9 seconds. It is also lower and runs wider tyres compared to the regular Punto. Keeping the Fiat honest is the Ford Figo. The Figo isn’t as unapologetically sporty. No loud stickering, just regular wheels and a diesel engine! Yes, it might run on heavy fuel, but it’s no slouch when it comes to 0-100 kmph times either. It is slower than the Abarth for sure, but not by much. But, what works in the Figo’s favour are its beautiful chassis balance and its ability to handle quick direction changes.

Click here to find out how they performed…

The hot hatches…

This is the most exciting category here. The newest of them all, the Volkswagen Polo GTI, as the name suggests, might look like the Polo with bigger wheels, less doors, and a racier grille. But, it is so much more than that. It has a 1.8-litre engine from the Octavia. It makes 190 bhp. And though it doesn’t get a trick differential to help put all that power down around a corner, its quick reacting and intuitive stability program and the soft nature of the chassis allows huge adjustability. And with it, high corner speeds and a quick lap time. This should be fun! Next up – the Mini Cooper S. It certainly looks more special, has a great lineage of being fun, young and desirable, and in its latest avatar, it is both more powerful and dynamically superior. It runs a 2.0-litre engine. And like the GTI, it is a turbocharged one mated to an automatic ‘box. It makes an equally drool-inducing 210 bhp, and supposedly, has a steering that actually reads your mind! It’s also tighter and stiffer than the GTI, which should make turn-ins pure bliss. And then there’s the Fiat 500. But, our test car here has a longer, more complicated name. It’s called the Fiat Abarth 595 Competizione. And if this were a cuteness contest, it would have walked away with top honours, no question. But this test is all about physics-defying handling and fun-to-drive, and on that front, it might be short of CeeCees and horsepower – it ONLY makes 160bhp from its puny 1.4-litre engine – but it has the size and the weight (the lack of it really) and the ability to turn on a dime, which should make it a hoot around the MMRT.

Here’s how the hot hatches did at MMRT…

The RWD sedans…

The BMW 3 Series is widely regarded as the sportiest mid-level luxury sedan one can buy. It is as much about luxury as it is about grin-inducing fun. But, this one here is the 320d. So yes, it is a diesel. And yes, it isn’t as powerful or torquey as its competitor today. But, it does manage to keep up in the 0-100 kph sprint. And with its tighter chassis control, a more feedback-rich steering, and less restrictive electronics, we expect it to be an absolute blast. Its competitor, the Mercedes C-Class, is more comfortable and relaxed and pampering. But, in the C250d guise (yes, another diesel), it is also torquier. So, even though it might not be as enthusiastic at turn-in, chances are its 500 Nm of torque will help it push it out of corners with more ferocity. Setting a quick lap time then, even for the Mercedes, should come easy.

Here’s what the RWD luxury sedans actually did…

The end…

Our track day has almost come to an end, but Cyclone Nada continues to torment us. It’s been raining on and off, the track has mostly stayed wet, and the sun has shone exactly six times over the last three days. But, we have decided to give it a fitting reply before we sign off. And it comes in the form of a blue, loud, Italian hurricane. It’s called the Lamborghini Huracan. And it is ferocious. With a screaming, naturally aspirated V10 engine and an all-wheel-drive system, both its speed and grip beggar belief. Rain or not, wet track or puddles, the Huracan is unstoppable. Not only is it a tight slap across the face of Nada, with its stunning blue hue, glorious wheels, and a drop top; we still haven’t been able to pick up our jaws from the floor.

Click here for the complete Huracan track story

Photos by Kapil Angane

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