For those of you who are not yet aware of it, I am a huge racing geek. I’ve been watching Formula 1 since I was 6 years old and have essentially grown up with the sport. I’ve also been obsessed with racing games for as long as I could remember. So as my family and I were planning our trip to Kuala Lumpur, I immediately looked up what I could do at Sepang International Circuit and when I saw that it’s possible to race gokarts there, I instantly put it on my to-do list for the trip.
Sepang International Kart Circuit (SIKC) is located in the Sepang International Circuit complex near Kuala Lumpur International Airport. This track is no simple gokart track, oh no. Firstly, it was designed by the Hermann Tilke – the man who designed a lot of F1’s current circuits such as Circuit of the Americas in Austin and Sepang International Circuit itself. Secondly, it’s an FIA-CIK circuit. This means that the track can be used for competitive racing because it satisfies the international governing body of motorsport – FIA’s requirements for professional racing in terms of tarmac quality, size, and layout. Third, the track is as old as I am!
It was my first time setting foot on a professional racetrack so when I got there, aware of the track being so special in Southeast Asia, I felt as though I had just arrived in Hogwarts or Narnia.
There are several types of gokarts to choose from with different speed and different rental prices.
- Series 1. This is the one for beginners with a maximum speed of 70 kph and 200 cc, 4-stroke, 6.5-HP engines. You don’t need a driver’s license for this one and a 10-minute drive with this gokart costs RM42 and should give you around 6-8 laps.
- Series 2. If you already have quite a lot of experience karting, this could be your pick since it has the maximum speed of 100 kph with its 150 cc, 2-stroke, 20-HP engines. A 10-minute drive costs RM106
- Series 3. This one is strictly for professionals and requires you to show your driver’s license. Top speed is 120 kph and the engines are 125 cc, 2-stroke, and 21 HP. A 10-minute drive is RM159 for this one.
When we got to the gokart circuit, the first thing we had to do was pick our series, pay the fee for driving, and fill in a form essentially saying we won’t sue the circuit in the event of injuries or death.
After signing my life away, we went to pick our hairnets and helmets from one of the racks by the pit lane. We were then given a safety briefing by Zul, one of the track’s marshals and an explanation on what different flags mean on the track. When I asked if the chequered flag could be waved at the finish line for us, he said “we don’t usually do that, but we can make it happen.”
It was then time to pick a car. The cars are all the same type with different numbers stuck to its front so it was essentially just choosing your car number. I couldn’t find my lucky number 16 so I settled with car number 12 located at the front of the pit lane.
Zul showed me how to get in car without breaking anything, how to gas, how to brake, and specifically said “don’t brake and gas at the same time, these cars can’t really stand that.” And then off I went.
The first thing that surprised me was how hard it was to even press gas or brake because I had to press the top of the pedal and my feet aren’t big enough to do it without hovering. It took me about 2 laps to finally find the sweet spot to rest my feet and hit both pedals comfortably. Also, the pedals are quite sensitive and the acceleration was magnificent.
I went easy on the throttle in the pit lane, sped up at the exit, and immediately noticed the vibration. Basically, the faster you go, the more your car vibrates. I was also instantly aware of how aware I was about everything – keeping an eye for the next corner, feeling the wind hitting my face (even with the helmet visor down!), and listening to my car sounds. It was a bit like an epiphany, really.
The track was only filled with our party of 5 so I thought that if I were to hit someone, it would be someone I know anyway and they’d know I didn’t mean it. Also, I trusted everyone on track enough to believe that they won’t hit me deliberately or in a dangerous way.
The pit exit was located at Turn 2 so after a moment to breathe and accelerate, there was a hairpin at Turn 3. I was excited and focused for my first corner, trying to hit the apex and get a decent exit. What I didn’t know was that corners are quite punishing for the body if you’re not used to it. When I got to the left-hand corner, the wheel was heavy to turn and gravity hit the entire right side of my body like a brick. Forget the apex and exit, I was struggling to control the car.
Exiting turn 3, I immediately accelerated again, hitting 70 kph, not really realizing that there was an S turn at the end of the straight. I hit the brakes, decelerated immediately and nearly spun out of the track, but kept it in the tarmac anyway, only to immediately botch the cornering again at Turn 5.
I spent the rest of Lap 1 adjusting to the track and more importantly, to my own car until I sort of figured out where to move while cornering, exiting a corner decent enough to keep my car in the track at all times, and how much I should brake at corners so I wouldn’t struggle with accelerating again at the exit.
When I finally got to the start/finish line, I knew I was starting to understand my car and threw one of my arms up while screaming with joy and hitting my car’s top speed.
As I got through more laps and corners, I was also learning more about the car and the track. I began to figure out ways to turn a corner that reduces the G-force the sides of my body had to take. I started to anticipate the corners from far away and memorize the track. I took more chances, pushed limits and became faster at corners too because I began trusting that the car won’t skid off track and end my run even if I did certain things.
Most importantly, I learned how to overtake and understood why they say “overtaking takes guts” because hell yeah it did, especially on corners.
My first overtake was at the start/finish straight which wasn’t that hard since all I had do to was speed up, not hit the other car, and decelerate hard at the corner. The next one was at the right-hand turn before Turn 9. During this one, I was thinking the entire time whether I should do it. I hung around the outside for a little bit and decided to brake late at Turn 9 and my gosh, that pumped my adrenaline higher than it had already been.
My favorite overtake, however, was this one that challenged me so much. I was following my sister’s friend through Turn 11 and at first, wanted the move done then and there. I went round the outside which was nerve-wrecking since she was weaving to my side and decided to fall back and try at the start/finish straight. She moved to the left and accelerated. I accelerated down the inside too and caught up. We were really close near Turn 1 and I finally got the move done by overtaking hear down the inside of Turn 1. That was the most exhilarated I’ve ever felt.
All in all, I had got around 6 laps in when Zul waved the chequered flag with passion at the finish line and signaled me to get one more lap before coming back in. I gave him a thumbs-up at 60 kph. Once I completed my final lap around the track, another marshal waved the red flag at the pit entry and I decreased my speed as I drove into the pit lane and parked my car.
When the car’s engine was finally off, that’s when everything I had just done dawned on me I felt buzzed. One of my dreams just came true. I had just driven a gokart. I hadn’t even realized how much I had been sweating and how sore my arms were from the steering. I got out of the car, thanked the marshals and especially Zul, and basically hopped my way out to the grandstands while squealing in excitement, forgetting to take off my helmet.
It was, quite honestly, my favorite experience in my life so far. Gokarting at a proper track was incredible and walking away from that, I have so much more respect and understanding of what my heroes in F1 go through because the physicality and psychological aspect of racing I experienced was probably much less than an ounce of what they experience. It was also an experience of being conscious like no other. Every second in that car, I was aware of my own thoughts and everything going on around me like I hadn’t been in a while.
If you’re a speed junkie or an adrenaline junkie, don’t forget to make time to race in Sepang the next time you’re in Kuala Lumpur. This is one of the only two FIA-CIK circuits in Southeast Asia (the other one being in Kranji, Singapore) and personally, I prefer this one out of the two since even beginners can get to 70 kph here while in the other track, the max speed is 30 kph. Also, the marshals are quick to respond if your car breaks down.
Gokarting confirmed my passion for racing- that this world dominated by men is my world too and one I’m keen to take a part of one day. After that first experience on the race track, all I wanted was one thing: more racing.
Things to note if you’re planning to race at Sepang International Karting Circuit:
- The track is about an hour away from Kuala Lumpur city center. What my family and I did to get there was take the KLIA Transit from KL Sentral to Putrajaya for RM14 (since we had to do something there) and got a GrabTaxi Fixed Fare from there for RM32. We made the huge mistake for not asking our taxi to wait and had to wait an hour after karting before finally, with Zul’s help, getting lucky with a GrabCar willing to take us to KLIA. From KLIA, we returned to KL Sentral with KL Transit via Putrajaya. My best recommendation is to rent a car if you’re planning to get to Sepang from Kuala Lumpur since public transport and taxis are difficult to come buy in Sepang.
- Bring some water with you since they don’t sell any at the track.
- The signage at the circuit complex pointing to the gokart track isn’t really noticeable, so keep an eye out for it.
- Be prepared for loud noises as professional racers also often use the track for their practice sessions and engine sounds can be really loud.
- You must wear shoes to drive the gokart.
- If you have long hair, make sure to bring some hair tie since safety requires your hair to be inside your helmet entirely.
- If possible, actively work out before karting or else your entire body will be sore for an entire week. The physicality of these cars are real.
- Do not drive gokarts like bumper cars – you’ll actually damage it and it can lead to a huge, fatal crash. If you do this, I will give you the hardest slap in the face you’ll ever receive because you’re endangering other drivers too.
- Gokarting should not be taken as a joke. You’ll be going at serious speed and a mistake may be fatal. Treat other drivers with respect and keep an eye out for each other’s safety.