I've never been a big fan of motorsports. Firstly, there’s no ball, so what’s the point? Secondly, I’ve never actually been interested in anything with a motor.
I was 21 before I was legally allowed to sit behind the wheel of a car unaccompanied, and had never driven a scooter before moving to Vietnam. I’ve never felt “the need for speed” or been a ‘petrol head’ — at least not until spending an afternoon at Vietnam’s first purpose-built ATV (all-terrain vehicle) quad track.
Located on the outskirts of the city, within the expansive grounds of the slightly surreal Suoi Tien Theme Park in District 9, is VinaRacing, a fledgling German-Vietnamese venture that opened its track in April following two years of research and development. The idea is to not only put motorsports on the map in Vietnam, but to also add some variety to Saigon’s much maligned leisure options.
Consisting of three dirt tracks (one for children, two for adults), a wooden hut changing facility, snack bar, stage, and, oddly enough, a mechanical bull, the area itself is relatively self-contained, helping to emphasise the roar of the ATVs.
Little time is wasted before my friends and I have changed out of our civilian attire and into full body race suits complete with gloves, open face balaclava and crash helmet, ready to go. However, before getting down to business we’re taken to a practise pen to get better acquainted with these four-wheeled juggernauts.
VinaRacing chief operating officer Arno Liemann goes over the necessary safety precautions and provides a run down of the bike’s specifications. With a fleet of 27 Kymco ATVs imported from Taiwan, each is fully automatic with 300cc of power that tops out at around 80kmph. If that sounds too intimidating, fret not, smaller, less powerful 50cc equivalents are also available.
Having demonstrated our ability to competently negotiate a figure eight around several centrally positioned tyre stacks — the equivalent of taking a local driving test — we’re given the green light to enter the advanced track. Mounting our mechanical steeds we accelerate off, leaving a blast of dust in our wake as thumping Euro dance soundtracks our laps.
Though we’ve completed the training phase it’s here where you really learn how to operate and appreciate these man-made beasts, encountering a series of bends of varying degrees while working out how to harness your body weight to successfully fling yourself around corners on nothing but two wheels.
Around 10 minutes pass before the man with the chequered flag waves us back into the paddock. I dismount my quad, take off my helmet, and realise I’m teeming with sweat. We’re racing directly underneath the mid-afternoon sun and it’s scorching. It’s no wonder the majority of customers prefer to do this in the morning or late afternoon.
We then turn our attention to the professional track. The track that separates the men from the boys and, as Arno quips, “really lets you see how far you can push the vehicle”. Here, only two people are allowed to compete per time, using slightly modified race quads.
Unlike the advanced track, the professional track includes fewer yet significantly sharper hairpin turns and a couple of bumpers that, with enough acceleration, can send you flying through the air in exhilarating fashion. The level of concentration required to complete it needs to be high, as one member of our group found out when his lap came to a sudden halt upon overshooting one of the more acute curves.
Though we aren’t tackling true off-road terrain in a jungle or forest, it’s still immensely fun and surprisingly draining, both mentally and physically. Three days later my arms and shoulders still ache. The feel of my everyday bike (a Vespa) is reduced to that of riding a Fisher Price tricycle. I want more of the action.
But at VND70,000 per 10 minutes for children on the kids track, and VND100,000 and VND120,000 per 10 minutes for adults on the advanced and professional tracks, respectively, it could be argued you don’t get enough bang for your buck. Arno says, “We need to charge these prices because we provide European quality and a European style of having fun.”
He adds that the experience is maximised by taking part in the various games, corporate and team building packages on offer, which mix driving with skill activities including blind driving, the aforementioned bronco and something that bizarrely combines an ATV with a seesaw and a mustard-smothered German sausage dangling from a raised wooden frame. Formula 1-style champagne shower celebrations (hence the stage) and a BBQ can also be arranged.
Not content with bringing ATV motorsports to Vietnam, Arno also reveals plans to open an international-standard go-kart track located closer to the city centre within a matter of months, using high quality go-karts imported from France and Germany.
“As well as being open to the public, the idea is to host professional international go-kart championships in Vietnam, like they do in Malaysia and Thailand,” he says. “We want to have the first professional go-kart racing team in Vietnam, made up exclusively of young, talented Vietnamese drivers.”
Until then petrol heads, thrill seekers and speed freaks can satisfy their motorsports cravings at Suoi Tien.
VinaRacing’s ATV track is located at Suoi Tien Theme Park, 120 Hanoi Highway, Q9, and open daily from 8am to 5pm. For more info, visit www.vinaracing.vn