Motor racing experts give their take on the most challenging tracks for amateur drivers.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

The Sepang International Circuit near Putrajaya in Malaysia often hosts Singapore speed fans who want to get maximum performance out of their supercars, which they can’t on public roads here. Among them are those who travel the globe to other purpose-built racing tracks, in pursuit of the ultimate high.

So which are among the best? It depends on whom you asks, as The Peak discovers from four professional speed merchants. The list for Singapore-based racing drivers Mok Weng Sun, Ringo Chong and Melvin Choo, and Malaysia’s former Formula 1 driver Alex Yoong, stretches across Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States.

The storied Silverstone Circuit, which hosts the annual F1 British Grand Prix, gets a special mention. A World War II Royal Air Force bomber airbase, it was later converted into a motor racing track, and hosted the first F1 race during the inaugural season of the Grand Prix series in 1950.

It is among the three racing circuits, including Monaco and Italy’s Monza, on which the who’s who of motor racing and all 32 Formula One champions have raced. Silverstone is one of the fastest circuits in the world, but, despite its legendary status, it is not the top track for The Peak’s panel of motor racing drivers.

Among other iconic tracks they say motor sports enthusiasts should have a go at are Belgium’s SpaFrancorchamps and Laguna Seca along the California coast. Singapore’s Marina Bay, Macau and Australia’s Bathurst have also been rated highly, but those are public roads and racing is illegal outside of sanctioned races.

All these circuits push the limits of race drivers but only the purpose-built tracks are open to racing enthusiasts when they are not hosting motor racing events. A range of supercars from most top marques is also available for hire at most tracks, for those unable to take their machines with them to those circuits.

The following four tracks, in no particular order, are our panel’s top picks.

Singapore racing driver Mok Weng Sun is a three-time GT Asia champion and he founded a local team, Clearwater Racing, that have been competing in the FIA World Endurance Championship since 2017. They won at Silverstone in the amateur category and posted five more podiums in the first two seasons, but have yet to finish among the top three at the legendary Le Mans 24-hour race at the 96-year-old Circuit de La Sarthe. But for Mok, this circuit is No. 1 on his list, followed by Spa, Bathurst and Silverstone.

“Just getting the opportunity to race competitively on this 13.6km circuit is an accomplishment in itself,” says the 51-year-old private investor, who retired from racing last year. “Experiencing the atmosphere of the Le Mans 24 Hours, and the awe of competing in front of 400,000 live spectators and millions more watching on TV, is incredible and the highlight of my racing career,” he adds.

The circuit, the second-longest racing track in the world after Germany’s Nurburgring, is a fast track and his team have hit 300kmh on a stretch called the Mulsanne Straight. Before chicanes were added in 1990 to this 6km section of the track, drivers were able to reach top speeds of 400kmh.

“Le Mans is neither physically demanding nor particularly difficult to learn, for that matter. But the spot that really differentiates the pros from the amateurs is the Porsche curves – a sequence of high speed Ss towards the back end of the circuit.

“This is where I have consistently lost significant time to the pro competitors in past years, and where significant ground can be gained against fellow amateurs when I can get it right.” It is the oldest purpose-built racing track in Asia and one of a handful of circuits in the world to have a “figure eight” layout, with the 1.2km back straight passing over the front section via an overpass. Designed as a Honda test track and opened in 1962, Suzuka is a fast circuit and it went through four modifi cations to make it safer to race on.

The best corner is the 130R, which was redesigned in 2002 after a Toyota F1 driver crashed through a metal fence there. It was converted from a sweeping 130-degree radius left-hander into a double-apex turn.

Although Germany’s Nurburgring is his top pick, Suzuka holds a special place in the heart of Singapore’s veteran racing driver, Ringo Chong. “This circuit has several combinations of corners,” says the 52-year-old. “It’s something really difficult to master. You have to be patient through the first section of corners, and then very brave and aggressive in some of the others. Constant speed is always high at Suzuka and, as it is also narrow, the track is very challenging and demanding for drivers to master.”

Chong, who has been racing since 1990, has competed in different marque series, including that of Aston Martin and Porsche. The highlight of his career, though, he says, was during the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix when he won two Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific support races.

With the closest city about 60km away in Nagoya, Chong says there are several hotels around Suzuka. “Besides driving, the track itself has a theme park that has lots of attractions. This makes your time, worthwhile, if you plan to put in a few days of racing. Renting a sports car is also easy and there are racing instructors if you want to sharpen your racing skills."

When it comes to size, this is the granddaddy of motor racing. Built in 1925, it features a staggering 154 corners and spans 21km in length. A lap at top speed takes slightly over 8 minutes to complete, and it is also the No. 1 track for Malaysia’s former F1 driver, Alex Yoong.

With every type of turn imaginable, it tests the limits of a driver and, like Le Mans, it is also home to an annual 24-hour endurance race.

“Nurburgring is by far the best track in the world,” says Yoong, whose 23-year racing career included two years in Formula 1 from 2001. “There may be better known races out there, like Le Mans, Monaco or even the Indy 500, but for a pure driving challenge that combines the intensity of the track with the unpredictability of the road, nothing can touch this 24hour race, or as locals like to call it, ‘The Green Hell’.”

Yoong also raced for Malaysia in the now-defunct A1GP for two seasons from 2006 and says three reasons make Nurburgring stand out. “The track is surrounded by lush green vegetation – which, obviously, is why it gets its name – and this is due to the rain it receives so often there,” says the 42-year-old, who is now a Fox Sports pundit. “What makes it so hellish is that the weather changes so quickly as the track speeds over the mountains.

“The next reason is the elevation changes. Spa’s Eau Rouge corner is rightly the best corner in the world, due to its steep elevation change through a fast corner. But the Nurburgring has five sections to rival Eau Rouge for the same stomach-churning thrill. And, finally, racing in a GT3 car, you can hit over 250kmh seven times within a lap here.”

Yoong’s other choices to drive on are Bathurst, Laguna Seca and Suzuka. He adds: “The best tracks offer challenges and should always punish you for your mistakes.” This track may not be acclaimed as an international motor sports venue and that’s probably because it is built 3,000m above sea level, at the top of a mountain in Kyushu’s Aso Kuju National Park. It is a logistical nightmare and the nearest hotel is hours away. Autopolis hosts only domestic racing championships and, on open track days, only hardcore petrolheads make their way there for the ultimate adrenalin rush.

If you get to Autopolis, says Melvin Choo, the rewards of racing on it are “heavenly”. The 48-year-old is the first Singaporean to compete in the FIA World Touring Car Championship in 2008 and then spent three seasons racing in Japan’s Super GT series the following year.

“Autopolis is the Spa of Asia,” Choo enthuses. “This track was designed with F1 in mind and you race through a forest of very tall mountainous trees. It is very picturesque and the climate here is also different as there is often fog and moisture. It is like racing in heaven!”

The track is the Singaporean’s first choice among other favourites spanning Suzuka, Nurburgring and Macau. He adds that Autopolis’ elevation is unlike any other.

He explains: “What is unique about racing here is that the elevation from the lowest to the highest points around the track is 50m. It offers those racing on it a breathtaking series of uphill and downhill climbs. Taking on the corners here requires some daring.”

Choo’s favourite part lies in the back straight along the second half of the circuit, where it goes straight downhill before heading into a sweeping right corner. “You need to have the confidence to carry the speed because once you hit all the way down, the next stage is immediately all the way uphill,” says Choo, who is now an entrepreneur. “Only a mountainous track can give you this type of driving thrill.” 

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