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Rehaan 10th September 2013 12:03

Drove a Formula car, Clio Cup car & more @ Sepang! Michelin Pilot Experience 2013
12 Attachment(s)
The Michelin Pilot Experience

If you want to get straight to the sights and sounds, this video covers it all:

As you'd expect, I had been dreaming about this for more than a week…
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I'm finally at Sepang circuit in Malaysia, and the only thing that stands between me and driving a Formula Michelin car is a basic medical test. The guys at Michelin are serious about safety. Luckily none of the 23 members of the media had high blood pressure!
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We then went down into the paddock, where many automotive treats awaited us. This one was just for us to ogle at.
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That's J. Regis, looking fondly at the 500 BHP Porsche 911 GT3 R. Regis has been with Michelin for decades, and he was the one who conceptualized the Michelin Pilot experience.
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Slowly the garage shutters rose, revealing a sweet line-up of track-prepped cars.
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These were cars for us! We'd be getting to drive most of them throughout the course of the day, ranging from the Formula Michelin, to the rally-prepped Citroen C2, and the Renault Clio Cup car too.
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All of us were made to wear the complete racing do, right from the racing suit to racing shoes and gloves too.
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As we stood around, the Aston Martin that had been hot lapping the track pulled in. The driver gave us the track report. It was dry and grippy. Good news, compared to the thunderstorms the weather forecast had been threatening us with!
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Check out the inbuilt pneumatic jack system for raising the car. In the earlier shot you can see one of the pit crew members attaching a compressed air hose to activate it.
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It was then slotted into 'race-car reverse' and rolled back into the garage.
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Take a look at this Pilot Super Sport tyre that was on display. Note how low-profile the sidewalls are.
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Some heftier looking racing slicks in contrast.
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Now let's get to the driving…

Rehaan 10th September 2013 12:03

17 Attachment(s)
The Formula Michelin Cars
196 BHP / 480 kgs / 0-100 in 3.5 sec

The batch I was in was the first to get their hands on the Formula Michelin cars. (The others started off with the Rally cars and Clio Cup cars).
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The parked racecars looked extremely tempting, but first we had to go through the track familiarization, as well as a crash course on driving the car (with its sequential gearbox and fussy clutch).
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The safety cars: a spanking white 911 Carrera 4S and a jet black Lotus Exige waited patiently in the pit lane. Despite both being incredibly accomplished performance cars, they would still have a tough time setting pace for the much lighter and track-focused formula racecars, especially on the corners.
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If Darth Vader was a car, this would be him. Interestingly, all the safety cars were running road-legal Michelins (rather than slicks). This is because of a few reasons: firstly, the Porsche wasn't set up for slicks (which can put a lot of extra load on the electronic differential), secondly, there had been a spattering of rain - and what use is a safety car if it's unsafe in the rain! The Exige however was the only exception. It was running slicks - but that was because of some logistical issues with getting super sport tyres for the smaller wheel size that the Exige uses.
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Believe it or not, this was the first car we'd be taking out onto the circuit. All 7 of us together - just to get familiar with the track.
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Benjamin Rouget was our instructor in the van. As he drove us around the track, he told us which gear/s to use for each corner, and what the cones for each corner meant (braking points, turn-in points, apex markers and exit markers). For anyone driving on track for the first time, or unfamiliar with a track's layout, these marker cones are invaluable.
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After that, it was time for a little theory. Though the Formula Michelin cars rev up to 7000+ RPM, our cars were limited to about 5,200 - 6,000 RPM. This made them a lot safer for non-experienced drivers (since it cut of the top whack of the power-band) and also made them a fairer match for the safety cars. Note the shift pattern for the sequential gearbox at the bottom right.
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The gearshift simulator was a Formula Michelin car strapped down to a rolling road. It let us get familiar with the extremely fussy clutch (used only for getting the car moving), and of course the weight and feel of the gearshift lever and pedals. Sequential shift boxes are wonderful on track. They are pure and direct like a manual transmission, without the need for a clutch (since they use straight-cut 'dog gears' rather than helical gears). There is a clutch, but you don't need to use it. You just bang the gear-lever forward to shift down a gear, and pull it back to shift up a gear (similar to a motorcycle gearbox).
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The foot-well was extremely tight and the pedals were very close together. There were one or two times I wasn't sure if I had moved my foot over to the brake pedal (it was a fairly hard pedal, since the brakes weren't boosted). However, the good news was that there was no room for my foot to go anywhere else! Of course it was on the brake.
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The air scoop here was just for cooling, not the engine air intake. Here you can catch a glimpse of the naturally aspirated Renault 2-liter block.
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No traction control. No ESP. No ABS. No power steering. No power brakes. It had been a while since I drove a 'real' car :)
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The Formula Michelin cars do have an electric starter built in (since it uses a road-going engine), however, to save weight there is no battery on board. To start the car, a battery is brought to it on a trolley (shown in the top of the picture) and the engine is fired up. With first-time drivers however, the clutch is tricky, which usually results in the engine stalling (you have to revv pretty high before letting go of the clutch). To make stalling less of an issue - all cars were pushed up to speed in the pit lane by an ATV.
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Finally it was time to drive!! We'd be getting 2 outings on the track, each one being 3-5 laps.
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The first run was about getting familiar with things:
• We had to keep a safe distance behind the Exige safety car. No racing or overtaking.
• The driver in the safety car started off slow and then increased the pace as I got more familiar with the car and the track
• Steering was fairly heavy, but direction changes were sharp and quick. You'd need 2 hands on the wheel, especially when exiting a corner where the car might get a bit skittish as you begin to accelerate.
• G-forces during cornering provided quite a workout. The small cockpit helped a lot by allowing me to brace myself against the sides during corners.
• The brakes pedal was hard, but the brakes were extremely responsive. Shedding speed was handled with ease, even when braking for the tightest corner immediately after the long straight (200 km/h?). Surprisingly, locking-up the wheels during hard braking was never an issue. Those massive slicks do provide an awful lot of traction.
• My car didn't have shift-lights, and the early rev-limited caught me off-guard a few times.
• Bumping the sequential shifter down the gears in braking zones was tons of fun and sounded great too. We had to be careful not to shift down too early and over-rev the engine.
• After 2 laps I was quite comfortable in the Formula Michelin. It was very well-behaved for a racecar. I was tailing the Exige, but I don't think he wanted to go faster in the first session.
The second session stepped up the speed:
• Thanks to one of the good folks at Michelin, I was put behind the Porsche this time. The driving instructor was told not to hold back :)
• In the earlier session, we really weren't close to the extremes of what the Formula Michelin could handle. So it took about a lap to find the car's limits since things were much faster now.
• The car was still extremely stable at high speeds down the straight and during hard braking. The only time the car would seem to want to dance would be if I came onto the throttle too soon and too hard when exiting a corner. Occasionally the engine would hit the rev limiter at this inopportune time and further unsettle the car.
• They say the Formula Renault (which is what the Formula Michelin is based on) is one of the most balanced and well composed formula cars to drive. In fact it’s the most-produced formula car too.
• Down the main straight, just a 50 meters before the braking point, the engine would hit the rev limiter (in 6th gear!)
• Due to the difference of cornering ability (weight & grip) between the Porsche and the Formula Michelin, I was able to play around and even feather the gas mid-way through tight corners, whilst the Porsche would be on the limit of its grip - with its tail sliding out ever so slightly. Made for a beautiful sight.
• The Porsche did have a tiny advantage on a few straight line stretches where it increased the gap.
• Watch the video!

The Formula Michelin has a full carbon fiber chassis. Almost all body panels are made of carbon fiber too.
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Here you can see the heavier tyre wear on the insides, due to the way the suspension was set-up on these cars.
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Absolutely massive rear tyres for a 196 BHP car!
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Whilst a few were lapping the track, the other participants were kept busy with a tyre-swapping 'pit-stop' challenge.
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Rehaan 10th September 2013 12:04

10 Attachment(s)
Citroen C2 Rally
150 BHP / 650 Kgs

Next up, we move from terra firma to what looks more like terracotta. Not only does the different surface require different driving technique, it requires different tyres too.
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The Citroen C2s were fit with Michelin's dirt tyres. Note the 3 reinforcement ribs on the sidewall. This strengthens and stiffens the sidewall, and also prevents stones from cutting the relatively thinner sidewall.
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Here's one of the folks at Michelin explaining the intricacies of the rally tyre to me. See the next picture.
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He said that in extremely muddy or slushy conditions, they manually trim down the tyre blocks to increase the space between blocks - which increases grip. Here I've illustrated (in green) which parts of the tread are cut off when this alteration is required.
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A dirt track was set up for us, and it was watered down to prevent too much dust from flying around. There was just one rule 'no using the hand-brake'.
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The C2s are front-wheel drive, and churn out 150 hp. They are fully rally equipped, with a roll-cage, racing seats, 4-point harnesses et al.
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The strangely placed mud-flaps here are just to keep the rear underside of the car clean (relatively clean?).
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After the sharp precision and unlimited traction of the Formula Michelins, things were completely different on the dirt.
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The steering wheel danced around in our hands whilst we used the throttle to transfer weight (and grip) to make the car change directions. (Watch the video!)
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Even on the dirt, there was enough traction to lift up a leg! (This isn't me driving though)
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Rehaan 10th September 2013 12:04

4 Attachment(s)
The Renault Clio Cup Cars
220 BHP / 1000 Kgs / 0-100 in 4 sec

I felt quite relieved to be back on the asphalt. The next line-up was a sight for sore eyes too.
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The Renault Clio is synonymous with hot-hatch (just like the Focus RS), and here it was in its Clio Cup form! 220 BHP, front-wheel drive, sequential gearbox, full roll-cage and racing slicks.
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The interiors were stripped down. There was a digital RPM gauge ahead of us, and a set of switches on the right. We were told which switches to flip to turn on the ignition and fire the engine up (useful in case we stalled somewhere on the track). The other switches were for the wipers and headlights. On the right of the steering wheel is the sequential shifter. Just like in the Formula Michelin, push to downshift, pull to upshift. In this case they recommended using the clutch to downshift (since this gearbox is weaker). For some reason, the wide positioning of the gear level in the Clio Cup car made me feel like I was driving a ship!
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I thought that after the Formula Michelin, the Clio Cup car might end up being a bit of an anti-climax, but boy was I wrong! Instead, it had a lot more of a personality than the F-Mich. In the formula car, if you did something wrong, you'd still be well within its tolerances - and the car would swallow up your mistake. In the Clio Cup, if you did something wrong - it would not hesitate to let you know! There was a lot more mass, more suspension travel and skinnier tyres. As a result, weight transfer played a bigger part in affecting the car's behavior. We had to be a lot more gradual with the throttle and brakes. Accelerate at the wrong time, you'll get understeer. Take your foot off the gas too suddenly or hit the brakes during a turn, and chances are you'll have the tail coming around! This was more about finessing the car near its limits, like painting with a brush; whilst the Formula Michelin was like cutting with a scalpel.
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Rehaan 10th September 2013 12:04

7 Attachment(s)
In the Garage & the 911 GT3 Cup Cars

I got a chance to take a quick look around the garages too. On the left are the Toyota GT86 pace cars, with the Porsche GT3 Cup cars at the center.
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There was a pair of Formula BMWs too, and Benjamin (our instructor) who drove them a day earlier said they were a lot twitchier than the Formula Michelins.
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Hidden at the back was the mighty Aston.
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Quite a wicked paint-job.
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The unsung heroes. You can tell they've had at least a few hot laps on the circuit.
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We got a chance to ride shotgun in the GT3 Cup cars too. The pro drivers were shifting gears so seamlessly and fast that it took me a while to realize that it was actually a regular manual transmission and not a sequential shift like I thought it was!
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Check out the heavy camber set up.
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Rehaan 10th September 2013 12:04

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Formula Michelin 2-Seater
196 BHP / 500 Kgs / 7000+ RPM Limit / Professional Driver

Now, with the self-driving events done for the day, you'd imagine that would be the end of the fun, right? Well, wrong. The program had yet another trick up its sleeve. An extended 2-seater Formula Michelin car, to be driven by a professional racing driver, with us in the passenger's seat. What's more: unlike the cars we drove, this one revs all the way till the 7000+ RPM redline. Full power (@6500 RPM)!
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The monstrous 2-liter Renault motor. Physically, it’s the same as the single seater, except for one thing - the short exhaust pipes. This thing was LOUD. People in the pit-lane covered their ears every time it drove by.
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Seating space for the passenger was limited, and my legs were literally wrapped around Benjamin's waist. My back was pressed up against the engine firewall, and there was a constant high-frequency vibration coming through - attacking my lunch. This was before we even set off!

Wheelspin and full-throttle in the pit-lane itself! It was straight to business. Instantly, I began to question my 'petrol-head' decision of not wearing ear-plugs. Even with a balaclava and helmet on, the engine noise was deafening, especially in my right ear. I'd turn my head away just to lower the sound. Though make no mistake, I was loving it. The first corner itself made me cling on for dear life, as I was sure we were headed straight for a cone. It turns out, we were taking the inside line and going to the left of the set of cones instead of through them. Whew!
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Acceleration was snappy, but braking was truly impressive. My helmet was ½ a size too big for me, and on the straight, because of the high seating position and wind force, it started to wobble around on my head! I'm guessing 250 km/h plus.
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I managed to muster the courage to let go of the grab handles and give the camera a thumbs up! :D
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Rehaan 10th September 2013 12:04

A Few More Things

• I gotta hand it to Michelin for this event. How often does someone get to show up at a F1 track and jump straight into a thoroughbred race car. That too, we got to drive not just 1, but 3 different race cars in one day! That's a rare experience.

• The Michelin Pilot Experience (MPE) is set up to showcase Michelins close involvement and devotion to motorsports. A lot of their innovations and new tyre technologies are developed and proven on the racetrack, before they make it to the mass market.

• Though there's no way to pay-and-drive in the MPE, it is accessible to auto-enthusiasts in another way. Michelin runs an almost annual contest, and the lucky winners get to experience this event. Back in 2008 a Team-BHP Narayan won the contest and put up a thread too.

• Note that this was the 'Super MPE'. It uses the same vehicles, but gives participants more time in the drivers' seat :)

• Unfortunately lap-times were not logged, and unlike when GTO went in 2010 there was no mention of the fastest lap either. There was a prize ceremony for the most consistent driver, which an Indian journalist Nithyanandh received.

• The 'spin of the day' was demonstrated by our host and guide; Rahul from Michelin. The long sound of screeching tyres resonated across Sepang for a good 10 seconds. He's been for the Pilot Experience several times and might have been testing the limits of the Clio Cup car. :D On returning to the pits, he joked it was the safety car that spun out.

• At lunch, we were chatting with a few folks from the motorsports fraternity. Interesting factoid: temperatures inside GT Cup cars can reach up to 70 degrees centigrade! Water cooler racing suits are used.

• Something I learned: Some of the softer-sidewalled tyres were problematic in India, due to the bad roads causing sidewall pinches/bubbles. Michelin has specifically addressed that with their XM2 model, which has much stronger sidewalls now. Interestingly, the tyres were tested in real world conditions by having them fitted on a popular fleet of cabs. I thought that was a pretty unique and smart way to set lakhs of kms of real-world testing done. If you've ever seen a cab running Michelins, now you know why!

• In case you missed it earlier, here's the video:

manson 10th September 2013 17:19

re: Drove a Formula car, Clio Cup car & more @ Sepang! Michelin Pilot Experience 2013
Superb write up and video footage Rehaan. A bunch of us have done laps at the BIC, but being in an open wheeled race bred machine at Sepang must truly be a slice of special.

GTO 10th September 2013 17:56

Re: Drove a Formula car, Clio Cup car & more @ Sepang! Michelin Pilot Experience 2013
I remember the outstanding manner in which my Pilot Experience was conducted (link) and it's great to know that the high standards have been maintained over the years. I thought you'd miss the high-powered karts, but that Clio Cup car has me drooling :D

Awesome report & an entertaining read as always. Rates thread 5 stars.

karan561 10th September 2013 17:57

Re: Drove a Formula car, Clio Cup car & more @ Sepang! Michelin Pilot Experience 2013
Hey Rehaan.

Great to see team-bhp being a part of this event :D

Have seen the Michelin pilot experience reported in many magazines & web before but IMO this has to be the most in depth & enjoyable read till date, simply superb clap:

Thanks for sharing !

Octane_Power 10th September 2013 18:00

Re: Drove a Formula car, Clio Cup car & more @ Sepang! Michelin Pilot Experience 2013
Man Rehaan, you were dreaming of this since a week and I've dreamt about it all my life.
As always excellent write up, the write up gave complete traction to my mind like the track gave to you :D
That "cutting the tyre blocks" part was really something new to me.



ayadalam 11th September 2013 12:50

Re: Drove a Formula car, Clio Cup car & more @ Sepang! Michelin Pilot Experience 2013
Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant :thumbs up

This is a dream come true for any auto enthusiast. Thanks for an engaging and informative write up. It was as though I was going through the motions myself.

I don't know if I would ever get an opportunity like this. But, I'm enjoying a few Michelin moments myself from the past two days. Just upgraded to Michelin rubber :D.

Kudos for the wonderful write up. This is as good as it gets. Thanks to folks like you for making this forum such a wonderful place to be in.

Drive Safe,

Jeash.vk 11th September 2013 20:05

Re: Drove a Formula car, Clio Cup car & more @ Sepang! Michelin Pilot Experience 2013
Awesome read. Thank you for the very good write-up as always Rehaan. I am sure that all those exotic cars would have made you drool to death.

Just wish you had a chance to take that Aston Martin (with the killer of a paint job) for a spin!

Swanand Inamdar 12th September 2013 12:22

Re: Drove a Formula car, Clio Cup car & more @ Sepang! Michelin Pilot Experience 2013
That Aston! My oh my, it literally has me drooling. I have always been a sucker for them Astons, but this one is truly wicked.

What an event, and what an amazing line up of monsters! Lucky you Rehaan!
The only thing better than the cars, is the report. Oh yeah, and the pics. :)

Rehaan 12th September 2013 12:34

Re: Drove a Formula car, Clio Cup car & more @ Sepang! Michelin Pilot Experience 2013
3 Attachment(s)

Originally Posted by Octane_Power (Post 3233440)
That "cutting the tyre blocks" part was really something new to me.

When i first heard about it (whilst watching a WRC race long back) i was pretty surprised myself. Moreso because of the video of the guys manually hacking off parts of the tread. It looked so lo-fi for the pinnacle of rallying that it had me shocked.

In this case, it was about making more space for the loose dirt. However, there is also another sometimes manually carried out process called siping. (Siping is also built in to road tyres).

It means cutting/splitting the tread blocks (not really removing any material). This can provide more grip in wet conditions and a few other advantages / disadvantages.

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Originally Posted by ayadalam (Post 3234135)
I'm enjoying a few Michelin moments myself from the past two days. Just upgraded to Michelin rubber

Nice - which ones?

Back in 2003 i took a gamble and upsized and put super-sport Michelins on my (boring) Accent 1.5. Best thing i ever did for the car!!


Originally Posted by Jeash.vk (Post 3234700)
Just wish you had a chance to take that Aston Martin (with the killer of a paint job) for a spin!

I know! They hid it away very quickly. Got to save something for next time :p

To be honest, i think most of us forgot about it, since we had all the other cars to play with. I had to hunt for it in the back of the garage to get those pics.


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