MOTORSPORT FEATURES

Racing to Subic

Racing to Subic image

Text: Iñigo S. Roces / Photos: Iñigo S. Roces | posted December 21, 2009 14:00

Ford Focus Race of Champions 2009

Want to race? The first things most pros will tell you is to find a sponsor first. After all, racing isn't cheap. F1 costs billions of dollars and it's no secret several teams have backed out over the years due to insufficient budgets. Even some of the lower levels of motorsport can become very prohibitive due to their costs. A race-ready kart can start at PhP300,000. A race car can cost more than double that. Add to that regular expenses like tires, fuel and repairs as well as the salaries of a pit crew and you can easily burn through PhP2M in just a single season (car not included).

Then there's the question of skill. Do you have any? You have to be able to reign in that hundred thousand peso machine, after all. Just like any endeavor, a racing career has to start somewhere. Some start out with karting. Others skip a few steps and jump straight into cars in drag or slalom events. Either way, grassroots level motorsports such as these are the best training for a career in racing.

Thankfully, the people from Ford Group Philippines and TRS understand this barrier and have taken steps to give the public easier access to a racing experience. One such event is the 2009 Ford Focus Race of Champions (ROC). Now on its second year and in time with the school's 10 year anniversary of teaching and competing in Philippine motorsports, the introduction-to-racing series offers a taste of the different racing techniques and disciplines on board the Ford Focus TDCi race car.

The three-part race series allows licensed, enthusiast drivers who are either Ford consumers, Ford sales consultants or friends from the media to participate in Autocross, Gymkhana and Wheel-to-wheel racing disciplines in separate events. Each leg combines instructional sessions and hands-on drive exercises before actual race heats giving even amateur participants a chance to enjoy the full racing experience.

To add to the excitement, participants are awarded points for their times while motoring journalists will form 14 teams of two to garner the best combined time. The fastest times in the student, dealer and media divisions are awarded the highest points. After two rounds, the points are added up to determine the overall top seven teams. These finalists will have a chance to experience bona fide wheel-to-wheel racing in the Subic International Raceway.

Best of all, each participant gets to drive a full fledged race car, in this case, Ford Focus TDCi. There couldn't be a better vehicle to drive as the TRS Ford Focus TDCi team has snagged top spots in the Philippine Touring Car Championships (2008 1st Runner Up Division 3, 2008 Class B Championship), 2008 Philippine Rallycross (Open Class Over-all Champion ) as well as the most recent win of 2009 GT Championship 200.

The vehicle features a 2.0 liter common-rail direct injection diesel engine with a variable nozzle turbo. It's been stripped down to the bare essentials with fiberglass body parts to reduce weight. Much of the engine, 6-speed transmission and tires are left stock while light performance modifications to the intake, brakes and suspension add a little more punch to the already capable vehicle. As for safety, the racecar has been fitted with a six-point rollcage, racing seats, and 4-point harness. Participants are also provided with racing suits and helmets.

The first round of ROC was held on August 8, 2009 at the Alabang Town Center Parking lot. With Gymkhana as the discipline of the day, the area was littered with gates, pylons and A-frames, forming a course of tight turns, figure 8's, 180 degree turns and 360's - all typical challenges you'd find in an Autocross event. The day was divided into two parts with the first half for consumers and dealer representatives. The competitors were given lectures on how to tackle the various types of corners, quickly followed by some hands-on experience on track with instructors on board.

After a whole morning of exercises, participants got the chance to prove their mettle with a competition in the afternoon. In all three categories, all participants were given practice runs before two timed heats where their best times were ranked to determine the day's fastest drivers.

Their awarding was followed by the media division where they formed 14 teams of two to garner the best combined time. The top ten placers in the student, dealer and media divisions are awarded points. After two rounds, the points are added up to determine the overall top seven teams. These finalists will have a chance to experience bona fide wheel-to-wheel racing in the Subic International Raceway.

All throughout the competition, times were steadily dropping as competitors were getting a hang of the car and course. By nightfall, the best times of the day were being slashed heat after heat, with Bobby Horrigan taking the top spot at the Consumers category, JP Vargas in the dealer category and the tandem of Inigo Roces and Chris Van Hoven from AutoIndustriya.com for the Media cup.

The 2nd leg was held last September 12 at the parking lot of the Greenhills Shopping Arcade. In contrast to the last leg's gymkhana format, where vehicles faced a course that included 180 degree and 360 degree turns, this leg followed an autocross format. Cones were set-up to create a challenging route that included sharp turns and gates positioned at tight angles. To add to the difficulty, the intermittent rains had made the surface extremely slick.

Despite the conditions, the competitors were up to the challenge, breezing through the lectures on how to tackle the various types of corners, quickly followed by some hands-on experience on track with instructors on board.

After all the points were tallied up, the top 7 media teams were as follows: Philippine Star's Jeff Reyes and Manny de los Reyes earned 11 points, tied by the Autoindustriya team of Vince Pornelos and Iñigo Roces. Manila Bulletin with Anjo Perez and Aris Ilagan was hot on their heels with 10 points. TopGear and Auto Review composed of Beeboy Bargas and Ferman Lao and Kit Joaquin and Ronald de los Reyes respectively were tied with 9 points. Uno Magazine's Eric Soriano and Mikko David garnered 8 points while Wave 89.9's Mike and Gerric are the last team with 5 points.

Come the final wheel-to-wheel round at Subic International Raceway, last November 7, 2009 the top teams whittled down to six as Wave 89.9 could not attend.

Nevertheless, the tests continue to come. In true racing format, drivers still have to qualify to earn a place in the main race and prove themselves worthy of wheel-to-wheel action. Only the top eight competitors will move on to the next round. Those eight will be divided into two groups of four that will race side by side for six laps.

Of course, those that don't make it will still be awarded points for their qualifying times, to be added with their teammates'. Once the checkered flag flies, points will be awarded according to place and added up to determine the overall winning team.

They couldn't have picked a better day for racing as the sun was shining high, the skies were clear and the cars were raring to go. Most of the morning was spent for practice laps on track, giving drivers a full and continuous 20 minutes of seat time each in the car. After a hearty lunch, the qualifying began.

Once all the times were tabulated, the top eight were determined, and before most could catch their breath, the first round of wheel-to-wheel racing began.

Mike Potenciano of Speed TV and Turbo Time quickly widened the gap and went on to take the checkered flag. He was followed by Christopher Kho of Uno magazine in second and Aris Ilagan of Manila Bulletin and Iñigo Roces of Autoindustriya.com in third and fourth respectively.

Alvin Ng of Auto Review may have had the second fastest time, but a punctured tire on the last lap brought him down to fourth. This moved up first time racer Rocky Marte of Speed TV to third and Beeboy Bargas of Topgear Magazine to second. Mikko David of Uno magazine overtook Alvin in the early part of the race to take the flag.

Once the fervor of their teammates settled, the participants were led to Lighthouse Marina to relive the day's events over a buffet and some lively conversation. It was only halted by the announcement of the official list winners. Taking the trophy was the team of Mikko David and Christopher Kho with 17 points. Mike Potenciano and Rocky Marte of Speed TV took second overall. Finally, Jeff Reyes and Aris Ilagan broke the three-way tie for third place with Aris' faster qualifying time.

With that, the 2009 Ford Focus Race of Champions was brought to an exciting and nail biting end. With champagne poured, prides shattered and grudges now made, there couldn't be more reason to look forward to the next year's edition.