While the Sepang circuit might not boast high speed, ball-breaking bends such as Spa’s Eau Rouge or Suzuka’s 130R, there are no shortage of tricky corners to show up one’s lack of talent. On the telly, some parts of the track may look as wide and flat as the nearby KLIA runway, in reality, constant elevation changes permeates throughout a lap, with only one “true” racing line if setting a good time is your priority.
The wide expanse of run-offs and gravel traps exist for good reasons; it’s easy to overcook Turns 1, 4 and 15, run out of courage at Turns 5 and 6, or out of tarmac at Turn 11, but the corner that’s perhaps hardest to get right is also the slowest; the uphill Turn 9 hairpin. Carry too much speed into 9 and you’ll most likely understeer into the gravel; approach it too gingerly and the car feels like a snail going uphill (yes, it’s steeper than the TV suggests). Even when you’ve somehow aced the turn-in (hanging out wide then slicing in to kiss the apex, squaring the hairpin and straightening the steering as soon as possible), you are then faced with the problem of laying down the power, as we discovered in the 560hp/680Nm M5 during the recent Malaysian stop of the BMW M Track Experience Asia 2015.
Forward motion requires traction
The BMW M5’s twin-turbocharged V8 probably has enough Newton metres to uproot tree stumps. On every corner bar one, the M5 just about pounded Sepang’s 15 bends into submission, as long as its near two-tonne kerb weight is given due respect. But when it came to Turn 9, bone dry on the day, on sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sports rubber, the M5 struggled to lay down power on the slightly beaten up track surface. No matter how clean the corner entry, or how consciously gentle we were on the throttle, it would bog down momentarily as the electronics intervened.
Not happy with our lack of success at Turn 9, we sought the consultation of the BMW instructor who piloted the “Too Fast, Too Furious” taxi ride in the M6 Grand Coupe. And somewhere between Turns 5 and 6, with the M6 properly sideways and laying down a trail of tyre smoke, it was revealed that “no more than 10% to 15% throttle” should be applied on the M5 upon getting its nose turned in on Turn 9, and that more benign drive modes of “Sport”, even “Comfort” are preferred over the more aggressive “Sport +” to avoid lighting up the rears or calling the traction control into action. We wished he’d told us earlier….
That the launch of the RM1.24 million (gasp!) BMW X6M corresponded with the BMW M Track Experience Asia 2015 was probably no coincidence – it was quite easily the standout M car…err…SAV. Armed with a similar V8 as the M5 but in a higher state of tune (575hp/725Nm), the rather stylish SUV punched through Sepang’s overhanging haze as if it was late for an Ikea sale (0-100km/h in 4.3 seconds, just 0.1 slower than the M5). So, going really fast in a straight line isn’t a problem.
The more pertinent question was how would this 2,340kg behemoth (on paper, and possibly closer to 2.5 tonnes after our breakfast) handle the corners, particularly Turn 9. Would the extra kerb weight over the M5 spoil the fun on a rather challenging Formula 1 race track? All fears were allayed just a few corners into the lap. Not only does the X6M feel uncannily light-footed around the circuit, we drove it no differently from an M5 that weighed 400kg less! Yes, it’ll understeer a smidgen in the high speeds corners as you lean on it hard, but the X6M is also more forgiving because its all-wheel drive system tolerates injudicious application of the loud pedal. Yes, you can be less precise with the X6M and still end up going rather quickly.
xDrive magic sauce really works
Nothing better encapsulates X6M’s nifty xDrive all-wheel drive system than the “problematic” Turn 9. Faisal’s reaction when he laid on the accelerator speaks volumes, whereas the M5 scrabbled for traction, the X6M simply got on with it and pawed its way up 9 and into Turn 10 with nary of a hint of electronic intervention. Of course, there must have been a fair amount of torque re-distribution going on as xDrive would have (presumably) channeled the majority of the available pulling power momentarily to its front wheels (100% to either axle if need be, from a 60:40 rear bias default setting) which made the quick and seamless getaway from Turn 9 possible. But the manner which the AWD system worked instantaneously and imperceptibly is nothing short of remarkable.
There, Sepang’s Turn 9 well and truly solved, now we just need a donation of RM1.24 million.