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Circuit training on Jaguar Track Day

The Jaguar Track Day at Yas Marina Circuit teaches Carolina D'Souza not to judge a car by its looks, but by the power under its bonnet.

  • The XFs (in grey and silver),XKR convertible (black) andXFR (red) A convoy offour cars lap the AbuDhabImage Credit: Supplied
  • The XKR during the reactionchallenge, where ourwriter had to slalomthrough traffic conesat 100km/hImage Credit: Supplied

"Whoaaaah," I splurt out, barely able to hear the instructions over radio control or over my own excitement as the car spins like a fairground wheel: first clockwise, then anti-clockwise.

Every verb I can possibly think of I experience. Jump. That's my heartbeat galloping through hoops of exhilaration. Race. That would be my pulse, bolting from nervousness to panic. Stuck. A verb to describe my current state on the skid pan at the Yas Marina Circuit.

No, make that gloriously stuck.

Besieged by water jets and rivulets, I struggle behind the wheel of the Jaguar XFR. I recoil my foot from the accelerator, and slam the brake pedal.

The car skims to a halt.

Minutes before, the hydraulic kick plate on this wet surface stretch had thrown the car off sideways. My job was to steer it back on course - and steer myself away from ridicule. Barely an hour ago, the safety briefing instructor had said, "Look after yourself," adding it would be nice if I returned the car in one piece.

The XFR is stationary, weltering in water.

"This can't be happening," I mutter and question my fight-or-flight response. When I signed up for the Jaguar Track Day event, I assumed I was ready for anything.

Except I wasn't. Giddy with the rotations and having sustained bruises to my feminine ego, I force myself to listen.

The instructor's voice booms out, demanding that I drive out of hazard. The car has soused in disrepute because of me; I have to redeem it. I do so by turning the steering very, very slowly while accelerating very, very gently.

Again the car spins like a fairground wheel.

The wet grip surface is not forgiving. The Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) has been deliberately switched off in the XFR to show how much fun it is to allow the rear of the car to spin out of control. No, of course it isn't the case. But I'd like to think so. Jaguar does have a better reason: to give the media an opportunity to see for themselves how the DSC system, among other Jaguar features, helps in conditions of water, ice, oil or snow.

With the DSC switched off, the XFR can barely maintain its dignity. Still, I use my limited knowledge of counter-steering technique to drive on to dry tarmac and clamber out.

Then I slide into the XF where the DSC is ‘on'.

The same routine. The kick plate throws the car sideways. Again, the windscreen wipers switch on automatically, working furiously to sponge away rebellious water sprays. Half expecting to go through the previous gyration, I take my foot off the pedal and brake. Screech.

Something takes over - the DSC.

It intervenes and reacts as soon as it detects slip, sending power to the wheels that have grip and limiting power to the ones that don't. The car steadies itself. The gushing jets do little to browbeat the automotive beast - now in full control. (Clearly, I had nothing to do with this given my earlier performance.)

This morning has been planned around such extremes.

The previous night, I had drifted off to sleep dreaming of laps around the world-renowned circuit that is home to the inaugural 2009 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Sebastian Vettel's win. You can't really blame me; I was staying at the Yas Hotel that straddles the track.

I thought I would do well. I consider myself an aspiring motor head, having owned a convertible that could touch 220kph with minimal effort and having completed a track driving course at the Dubai Autodrome a few years ago.

And to boot, like all motor heads, I came programmed with bias. Mine is to do with American muscle cars. It isn't so much a fondness as it is a fierce passion. I never thought of high-end performance cars, including those in the Jaguar stable, as being anything more than gleaming portable trophies. OK, now some of you will tsk-tsk, saying I ought to drive a few before I write them off.

Turns out I did. It was earlier today that I got to test my ill-informed opinion during the reaction challenge in the XKR, a 5.0 V8 ‘trophy on wheels'. I had to touch 100kph, maintain speed, slalom through four sets of traffic cones, and wait for the instructor's command.

Here's what happened…

My instructor, a likeable bloke named Fraser Martin who is clerk of the course and senior instructor at of the Race & Driving School at the Dubai Autodrome, told me to drive through the cones and stop when he asks me to.

So I blustered between the cones.

"Brake," he said.

I did, bringing the car to a standstill,

He said, "I told you to brake, not stop."

If you are wondering what the point of the challenge was (yes, there is one), it was to test a driver's reaction time. The shortest braking distance in the shortest period demonstrated good reflexes. I cried foul, of course. I wanted to tell Martin that he was being pedantic, using semantics to confuse me.

Anyway, back to the skid pan and off to the next spot, mainly the Formula 1 track (3.1km) where eight Jaguar cars, spanning XF, XFR, XK and XKR models wait to be tested.

First up is the convoy experience where a lead car, well… leads, and three other cars follow. (There are four cars in each convoy.) This time, I slip back into another XFR and drive the length of the track. It takes me a while to remember my club circuit lesson where I drove a manual Subaru Impreza WRX STi and learnt to balance throttle (apex to exit), use correct rev limit and workout the best turn-in point for maximum speed. In the XFR, the voice over radio control helps with instructions: approach as wide as possible; turn in and aim for the apex; and run wide as you exit the corner.

But all of these activities pale in significance when the time comes for the hot laps. I sit next to race driver Nick Edwards who demonstrates two lessons: the meaning of unrestrained throttle and how a premium luxury ride can pay its devoirs to brute racetracks as easily as they do on civilised roads.

To see a video of Carolina D'Souza's track experience, log on to


From the Jaguar stable


This year marks Jaguar's 75th anniversary. A few of the models used during the Jaguar Track Day at the Yas Marina Circuit…

The XF fuses sportscar styling and performance with the refinement, features and space of a luxury saloon. The XF portfolio includes 3.0 V6 petrol and 5.0 V8 petrol.

The supercharged XFR 5.0 V8 is the most dynamic and exhilarating expression of sporting luxury.

The XK combines Jaguar's legendary performance with advanced technologies and sporting luxury. The XK is available in three models: XK, XK Portfolio and XKR. The XKR comes in a 5.0 V8 with coupé or convertible model options.