x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Yas skid pan sure to give drivers a kick

The Yas Marina Dynamic Vehicle Area is a great, and fun, way to improve driving.

A Mercedes CL63 AMG on the skid pad at Yas Marina Circuit.
A Mercedes CL63 AMG on the skid pad at Yas Marina Circuit.

There is a strange place in the UAE, not very far from the bright lights of the Yas Marina Circuit's asphalt track and its shiny F1 pit garages. It's a place where laws are always followed, yet it is in an almost constant state of mayhem and anarchy.

Oh, and it's also very, very wet.

That place would be the Yas Marina Dynamic Vehicle Area, tucked up near the drag strip and well back on the circuit's large skid pad area. The laws that are followed are those of simple physics; and it's directly because of these laws that the mayhem occurs.

The Dynamic Vehicle Area consists of a large surface, about the length of 10 cars end-to-end, floored with a low-friction material. Interspaced on this floor are a myriad of holes that house water sprinklers; each can be controlled separately, on or off.

And when they're on, that floor gets slippery. By slippery, I mean like walking on ice. Or, specifically, like driving on ice.

The final piece of this apparatus lies at one of the long ends of the surface; it's a kick plate, a hydraulic device that is designed to kick a vehicle in one direction or another laterally as the car travels over it.

What's it all for? Learning car control. But there's very little control of anything once a car gets some speed and goes over that plate.

The kick plate allows the front wheels of a car to pass over it unimpeded, but it can sense when the rear wheels hit it. That's when the plate is forced to one side or the other, and the speed of the vehicle determines the force of the movement. Therefore, the faster you go over it, the more kick your car will get, and the more spin you'll find entering the low-friction surface.

Oh, and those water jets? Because they are independently controlled, their streams can be made to form "barriers" that the cars must avoid. Good luck with that.

The whole point of it is to learn how to combine proper steering procedures with correct brake and/or throttle adjustments. It can also be used to demonstrate a car's traction and stability control systems.

It's a good teacher. At the very least, you'll see how easily control of a car can be lost, and you'll be very, very happy that those walls you're going into sideways are just made of water. Hit the kick plate at 40kph, and you become a passenger in what seems like a child's spinning top; no matter how you turn the wheel or let off the throttle, the laws of physics take over. Try it again at a lower speed (even 30kph), and you can see and feel the effects of proper car management: you'll never have full, crisp control on this surface, but it is possible to slow down, snake through the water-jet slalom and ease your way out the other end nose-first - but only with the proper technique. It's a fantastic and safe way to learn what to do in an emergency.

Officials at Yas Marina say they have plans to use the area for driver training, but there is no timetable set yet. As of now, it's used by manufacturers for customer and media events.