Why do drivers keep crashing at the last corner of CIS?

Just over 24 hours ago, images and video surfaced on social media of a Toyota GR Yaris that crashed so violently that it ended up on its side and atop a tire barrier at the Clark International Speedway (CIS).

The images were horrifying, to say the least. The limited-run homologation special has to be a total write-off, but thankfully the driver - himself a member of another media outlet - had a few cuts but otherwise, he was alright according to x-rays. There was no passenger, contrary to the gossip on social media.

The vehicle was a press car; one of the vehicles generally lent out to us for test drives and reviews. At the same time, he was driving it at the Clark circuit, I had the second GR Yaris press car at another circuit doing my own evaluation and test. But you'll see and read about it later on.

The smashing demise of the GR Yaris brings up an old topic especially amongst those who have driven or raced at Clark International Speedway: the final corner.

We should talk about Clark and the wrecked Toyota GR Yaris image

CIS layout on Assetto Corsa

I am very familiar with the circuit. I've driven during track days there, taken classes and training there, raced wheel-to-wheel there, and have been fortunate enough to win there. My take on the track is simple: it is deceptively unforgiving. Now that is true of many racing circuits. If you make a mistake big enough with the right series of unfortunate events or conditions, what you get is a disaster. But at Clark, it's hard to spot that tendency especially if you're new to the circuit.

The look of the circuit is deceptive because the terrain is flat, the tarmac is wide, and there is plenty of grass run-off. There are gravel traps to catch you in some places. The circuit is power-dependent and braking-heavy; the straights are long in between most of the corners on the northern part of the track. But even if you misjudge the braking for the uphill turn one left-hander, you have space to overshoot and recover. In other words, it looks like you have a wide safety net to make mistakes unlike other local tracks.

We should talk about Clark and the wrecked Toyota GR Yaris image

Honda CR-Z taking on Brian's at BRC

The Batangas Racing Circuit (BRC) is very fast, flowing, bumpy, tricky, and off-camber in some places. There is no run-off in some places and sometimes the run-off slopes down into a ditch. Sometimes the wildlife would be a factor as the cows they have tied up to graze on some sections of the grassy areas would wander onto the circuit. Sometimes they would leave “landmines” that would create a stinky mess if you ran over it. Ask me how I know.

Perhaps the most dangerous corner there is Brian's: a fast, bumpy, and banked left-hander that you basically take at nearly full throttle for the straight afterward. An engineer named Brian with one of the teams wrecked a Formula Toyota there, hence the name. According to senior racing drivers, he survived. I wasn't there for that, but during one of the races (many years later) at BRC I saw a Ford Fiesta do a few cartwheels at Brian's (in)famous corner. 

We should talk about Clark and the wrecked Toyota GR Yaris image

Asian Formula 3 at SIR

The other track is the now-defunct Subic International Raceway (SIR). Built on one of the rapid refueling taxiways at the former U.S. Navy station runway (now airport), SIR's surface was slippery, had zero run-offs in some places, and sometimes water would pool at the braking zone at the end of the main straight. But the treacherous part was the bus stop area; a lot of incidents happened there, including a fatal crash (so I'm told).

Subic was perhaps the definition of an unforgiving circuit because of the walls and the precise driving you need to perform to be fast. Any mistake or misjudgment, and your car is a wreck. A buddy of ours perhaps described it best in his thick Colombian accent: “The wall is your friend. You do not touch your friend.”

We should talk about Clark and the wrecked Toyota GR Yaris image

Exit curb along CIS Main Straight. Note the profile of the curb.

The daunting impression of SIR and BRC does have a benefit: if it's your first time driving there, you drive with a degree of caution like an EDSA first-timer. At Clark, it's not so obvious. Racing instructors actually have to drill that into the students because it's hard to spot.

Don't get me wrong: CIS is fairly safe, but there is one feature that can catch out anyone who isn't aware of it. You can find it on the exit of the last corner: the blue-white curb.

Unlike other painted curbs at circuits around the world which are intended to give the driver less traction and speed (a disadvantage), the curbs at Clark have big gaps that can cause a driver to lose control. The reason is because drivers could end up putting their outside tires (passenger side) on it while exiting onto the main straight. The weight of the car would likely be loaded onto that side and the large gaps could rattle a driver and make him (or her) lift off the throttle and/or make big steering inputs. At the speeds entering the main straight, the last thing you want is to unsettle the car's balance. 

You can find these kerbs at other sections of the track like at Acacia corner, but the speed approaching Acacia is slow enough to not unsettle the car so badly. I generally straddle the curb with the centerline of the car to make my entry for the next corner wider.

We should talk about Clark and the wrecked Toyota GR Yaris image

JP Tuason - Tuason Racing School

Any race class taught by pros such as JP Tuason and the Tuason Racing School (TRS) will make it clear that the last corner before Clark's longest straight is the most dangerous. They'll also teach that it is the most important one to get right because of the length. That's why drivers are coming at it with much more speed. Even in a low horsepower Vios Cup car, I was hitting the apex at 135 km/h because in that car it's a no-lift corner. In other cars with more power it will even be faster, and that will be a big problem if your outside tires get on the curb on exit. Those gaps on the curb also act as little basins that hold (not drain) water. When the incident happened, it was raining too.

If there are doubts about the danger of that corner, just look at the wall on the inside of the main straight: the marks on it speak of many crashes that happened there in the past. 7 years ago during one of the training sessions for the Vios Cup, one of my fellow drivers wrecked her (yes, her) car at that very wall while exiting the last corner. While another media outlet was conducting a photo shoot a few years before that, the driver made an error and ended up wrecking a Honda Jazz press car at the exact same spot.

We should talk about Clark and the wrecked Toyota GR Yaris image

When you visit CIS, look at the inside wall beside the LFA for fresh marks

During the GR Yaris crash, it was on the outside wall. Many have crashed there too, one of the most infamous was a race involving a Chevrolet Cruze touring car. The Cruze took an inside line for the apex and ended up shoving another competitor onto the kerb and then the outside wall. That resulted in a scuffle in the pits at the end of the race.

Clark has actually redesigned that section since the track first opened. If I remember correctly, there was once a gravel trap outside of that curb. That has since been changed to a hard run-off surface to give drivers a chance to recover the car, but the design of the curb remained the same.

We should talk about Clark and the wrecked Toyota GR Yaris image

Old corner exit onto CIS main straight

To make it clear: the GR Yaris incident was a PHP 2.65 million peso example of driver error. One of the first things they teach you at any performance driving class is that you - the driver - are in control of the car. For this incident to have happened, the driver probably (1) overshot the apex of the previous corner by going too fast or (2) clipped the apex too aggressively on the limit and bounced the car too far to the outside.

Any of those two incidents would have likely spat him and the GR Yaris out onto the wet curb. Even with the weather and track design, this is still a driver error. The important thing is that the guy driving knows it, and will undoubtedly learn from it. The incident just underscores the importance of extensive and professional high-performance driving training before even thinking of tackling a track at speed. That will just save you a lot of headaches, costs, and injuries in the long run.

We should talk about Clark and the wrecked Toyota GR Yaris image

Be that as it may, I think something should be done. The older guard would say that driving on the track and motorsport, in general, is dangerous, and that's where the thrill comes from so just suck it up and drive right. I do agree, but Clark's case is different. 

CIS is the go-to circuit for first-timers to join any track event, racing class, or high-performance driving course. CIS management should look at taking some steps to ensure the facility is more forgiving of new drivers by making changes to that curb/rumble strip. After all, new racing enthusiasts and participants are going to be important at ensuring the growth of motorsport in the Philippines and having an increased potential of a crash isn't going to encourage more to join and enjoy the thrill of driving fast in a safe environment. That's just my opinion.

In this case, the driver walked away with minor injuries given the violent crash. The car's safety features probably saved his life, but let's not wait for an incident when that isn't the case.

The ambulances are busy enough these days.