Our experience begins with a crash course in racetrack driving. Actually, it’s more of a hope-you-don’t-crash course, given the circumstances. It’s just the basics, really. When to brake, when to accelerate and how to get back to the pit garage in one piece. We’re talking 20 PowerPoint slides. Maybe 15 minutes, max.
And about five minutes after that final slide, I’m being strapped into the driver’s seat of the Maserati MC20 – a US$324,000 supercar capable of monstrous performance – and urged out onto Malaysia’s Sepang race track, a proper F1 circuit where speeds in excess of 250 kilometres per hour on the main straight aren’t just possible, but also happily encouraged.
In terms of preparation, it’s a bit like watching the safety film on a commercial flight and then being led straight up to the cockpit to take over the controls.
Welcome, then, to the Maserati Driving Experience, which – as the name suggests – gives regular folks the opportunity to sample some of the Italian brand’s angriest vehicles on a proper racetrack setting.
And this is a particularly special event. Historically only ever held in Italy, this is the first track day to take place outside of Maserati’s home country, with the Asia–Pacific region getting the nod over much bigger markets, in terms of outright sales, like the US.
To get to this first one, you needed Charlie Bucket levels of good fortune, with just over 30 golden tickets in total issued to Maserati dealers in Australia and across South-East Asia, which in turn were then handed on to their customers or prospective clients.
However, in the years ahead, it should get a little easier. With this first pilot event done, there should be more than 100 tickets available – though still to be distributed by Maserati dealers – for future events that will be held anywhere from Australia to Japan.
“It’s such a good program in Italy, they’ve accumulated all this knowledge, and so we wanted to utilise it too,” says Maserati Asia–Pacific Managing Director Takayuki Kimura.
“It will be at least once a year, somewhere in APAC. Why? Because globally we looked at the market share of Maserati where it has the same competitive set. Number one is Italy, number two is Japan and number three is Australia. It’s an indicator of just how established the brand is here.”
Maserati is actually a little late to the party on this. Brands like Mercedes-AMG, Porsche and BMW M already host similar events for paying customers. But few can compare with the value on offer from the Italian brand.
A ticket will cost around US$1,200, for which Maserati will provide accommodation, the track, the cars and, perhaps most importantly, an army of former racing drivers who are strapped into the passenger seat for live coaching.
That last bit is massively important. According to the event’s organisers, most of the people invited have never driven on a race track before, and fewer still will have ever sat behind the wheel of the Maserati MC20.
Maserati’s road missile is easily the brand’s fastest and most aggressive vehicle. Its turbocharged V6 produces a mega 463 kilowatts and 730 newton metres, with the engine that’s mounted above the rear axle – just behind your head – feeding these huge waves of power straight to the rear tyres.
The MC20 is also light. Like, really light. With a heavy chassis swapped out for a bespoke carbon-fibre tub – essentially, all the important bits are bolted to this one continuous carbon-fibre frame – the MC20 is both super stiff and super agile, allowing for eyebrow-peeling acceleration and incredibly responsive handling.
It’s one of those cars that feels like it knows where to go moments before you do, so telepathic is the way it responds to steering inputs. It’s terrifyingly sharp, exhilaratingly rapid and great, big bags of fun from the moment you manage to origami yourself inside through those skyward-opening doors.
The coaching on offer here is a pretty special blend of encouragement and confidence-inspiring advice, and the instructors are very good at judging your limits and encouraging you to push beyond them. Sure enough, you find yourself travelling faster and faster with every fresh lap, the calm voice next to you suggesting you brake later, accelerate harder and ignore the squealing from the tires.
The MC20 is not cheap. Nor is it overly comfortable. But it’s one hell of a party on a race track.
If approximately US$324,000 sounds like a lot of money to spend on a track toy, then save it. Because for a fraction of that cost – and provided you’re willing to cosy up to your nearest Maserati dealer – you can drive someone else’s car on one of the world’s best racetracks, and have them worry about pesky things like insurance, tyre and brake wear and tear, and depreciation.
Trust me, it’s a golden ticket worth searching for.