On the 17th May I attended a full day with Maserati at the Sydney Motorsports Park at Eastern Creek using the South Circuit, now known as the Amaroo Circuit in memoriam for the old circuit in the north west of Sydney that has now been fully destroyed after closing in 1998.
The day was organised by European Automotive Imports who are the official Maserati importers and started with a driver briefing outlining the structure of the day and the introduction to the instructors, all of whom are experienced and current race drivers. The morning was taken up with driver exercises and the afternoon with laps of the short circuit in cars provided by the dealers and importer. I was one of only 8 there for the morning, which meant plenty of time with the instructors to absorb their advice.
First up, we had a discussion on the ergonomics of the drivers seat and position. Although I have had prior race experience and done many track days, it was still interesting to look at how I was sitting in a car and how to improve the position. I needed to bring the steering wheel about a centimetre closer to me compared to what the factory had set it at. I also needed to ensure that my legs had enough space to provide maximum power and support when necessary.
The first exercise was to see how a car performed in a slalom using the standard electronic aids showing how the car can react quicker than the driver can when hard directional change unbalances the vehicle.
Next we moved further around the circuit to a set of cones that outlined the differences in braking distances when the car was travelling at a range of speeds. We started at 40kmh and worked our way up to about 100kmh with heavy braking to induce the ABS. At 40kmh the distance is at least 26 metres (assuming that the drivers reaction time is fast) and this increases to at least 98 metres at 100 kmh!
Interestingly, with a two pedal car, we were taught to use the left leg to balance thus relaxing the upper body which in turn provided safer control of the steering. The discussion afterwards then related to the reaction times of the driver – clearly this could significantly extend the distance if the driver was unprepared.
The final exercise was to practice cornering to ensure smoothness of cornering and getting all the changes to the car done prior to balancing it and turning in towards the apex. This was actually a great exercise to do because in normal driving it is easy to simply turn the wheel. Here, we were heading into a corner, braking, changing gear and then when the car was settled, turning in and at the apex applying a smooth delivery of power as the front wheels straightened.
The key is not to apply full power until the front wheels are absolutely straight – something that I was reminded of by the instructors. I had a tendency to apply too much power too early on the exit. The instructors were great providing feedback and using the term “patience” a lot!
Vision is key, being a motorcyclist has taught me to look ahead and scan. The same applies when driving fast on a circuit, you need to be thinking ahead and being prepared for any change in the conditions.
After lunch we were then allowed in a mix of cars:
– GranTurismo MC Sportline
– GranCabrio MC
– Quattroporte GTS
– Quattroporte S
– Ghibli S
Each car was different in some form: weight, power or other dynamics and this really showed. I enjoyed the MC Sportline and the GranCabrio which felt like the lightest car there. You can’t deny they sound great when pushed!
The Quattroporte GTS was quick but felt heavy compared to the Quattroporte S which in turn felt nimbler and more connected. This may have been due to the larger engine in the GTS – a 3.8 litre twin turbo V8 over the 3 litre twin turbo V6 in the S although they are almost the same weight! Clearly the setup was different between them because there is 100hp difference yet the smaller displacement felt better. Many of the drivers commented on the GTS as being a great autobahn car – getting from city to city quickly and comfortably.
The Ghibli was the surprise package on the day. I had never driven one before and I really liked them. Despite only having 70 bhp difference between the base Ghibli and the Ghibli S from the same 3 litre twin turbo V6 they felt solid in cornering and had huge amounts of torque. As an example, when running the Ghibli S I was told to change up more often between corners, whereas in the other cars I would have held second, the Ghibli could be taken to third for a few seconds before downshifting and it made the car faster and smoother.
The shorter Amaroo circuit at Eastern Creek was a good introduction to these cars, tight in places but also with some sweeping bends that allowed us to focus on what we had learned in the morning sessions. I would recommend any of the driver training programs at the circuit even if you have driven for many years because we all fall into bad habits and these types of days with instructors available really focus you on how to break the habits and drive much smoother (not necessarily faster).
An enjoyable day with a mix of cars and plenty of circuit time.