11 June 2013

Living the Monaco dream

The Monaco Grand Prix has always been considered as the crème de la crème of the racing world. Very few have had the privilege of racing there, but over the course of its 84 year history, hundreds have raced the street circuit, and all ofthem have walked away enchanted by the sheer thrill it offers.

I remember being a young kid when I first understood the importance of the Monaco GP. Watching the race at home in Kuala Lumpur, it was a small boys dream to be able to race there. Over the years I watched more races at Monaco, read more about the circuit, and tried to understand the allure of it, but nothing could have prepared me for the day I went charging into Sainte Devote, the first corner of the circuit.

I have been attending the Monaco GP every year since 2009. The first time I visited the most glamorous race in the world was for a short holiday, ever since then, I have been fortunate to be able to tag along with the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team.

The Monaco GP is much more than just a race, the excitement starts three months prior to the day the chequered flag is waved, that’s how long it takes to build the pit garages, tribunes, barriers and everything else that keep the race exciting, and the drivers safe. It is also the only race on the calendar which starts on a Thursday instead of Friday. But besides the celebrities, the parties, and all the glitteratis, the race is famous for the circuit, there can never be anything else like it.

Over the years, the track is now smoother, and of course much safer as well. Where previously it was not unknown for cars to take off into the harbour, today advances in technology keep us safe even when the unexpected happens. Trust me; there is not a driver on the grid today who wishes things were as dangerous as before, especially not on a track like Monaco.

With the walls just millimetres away from your tyre, and your competitor trying his very best to get past you at the smallest opportunity, racing at Monaco requires a driver to perform a gargantuan balancing act. He has to concentrate on driving and changing gears, staying away from the barriers, getting the correct racing line, feel for traction, and keep the competition behind him. There are only a few other race tracks in the world that demand so much from a driver, but none come close to Monaco for the sheer excitement for the driver.

The track is amazingly unique with different gradients, and elevation (the Circuit de Monaco is the steepest circuit on the calendar), and also the infamous Fairmont hairpin, the slowest corner on the circuit. My personal favourite is the Swimming Pool chicane, it is basically a blind entry at almost full throttle, then you have to hop the car from one chicane to the other and almost instantly get the car pointing straight again. It is an absolutely amazing experience.

Every year I would watch the podium ceremony of all the categories and wonder how it would feel like to win an ACM (Automobile Club de Monaco) trophy on the coveted podium. The ACM trophy is the only trophy that is given to the podium finishers of the Monaco Grand Prix, and your name will be permanently stored in the record books. On top of that, it is the only event that the podium finishers will receive two trophies. One from the organisers of the race, and then the ACM trophy which is presented before the national anthem of the driver is played.

This year, I made my debut at Monaco, and I lived my dream. I finished on the podium in third place and also finished as top rookie (most of the competition have been racing in the series for two years). I received four trophies, two from the organisers of the race (Renault) and another two more from ACM.

This would not have been possible without the support of Petronas, my sponsors, and my team, Carlin, who have stood by me every step of the way. I hope to return to compete in Monaco in a Formula One car one day, and hopefully step up to the top step of the podium. But before that, I have my eye on finishing the current season in the highest possible place.

Till the next race, drive safe.

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