I was pushing her for all she's worth, doing everything I can to anticipate and manage the inevitable understeer from the tired tires and the spent brakes. I exit the corner with just a little more speed than Paulo in #7 and, on the vast expanse of that back straight, I gradually reeled him in.
His taillights fired up as he dove against DJ Sam YG into Turn 3. I stomped on the anchors at 140 km/h, heel-and-toeing down as I altered my line to the inside for the tight hairpin. Everything was in slow motion, but my car wasn't slowing down enough. And then I saw Paulo and Sam start to turn in.
I braced myself for the inevitable contact and...
Yes, that was how intense my Toyota Vios Cup experience was at the Mckinley West Street Circuit; easily the greatest singular event ever organized in Philippine motorsport.
Just a few weeks prior, Toyota Philippines announced that they would hold the third and final leg of the 2014 Vios Cup Season at a street circuit laid out in McKinley West; an upcoming residential and condominium complex in Fort Bonifacio. Needless to say we were all excited and so were the racers.
The regular Vios Cup drivers were there, and the points leaders were locked in a battle to determine who will be crowned champion, something that was no longer a sure thing since the points system was changed for the special leg. The Celebrity drivers were likewise in a heated battle. For the most part, I just wanted to win against Paulo Subido of Top Gear Philippines and Ira Panganiban of Autocar in the Media division.
The track itself was a challenge. The Toyota (nee Tuason) Racing School set up a 1.8 kilometer long circuit in a venue designed to be a luxury residential area. Driver and spectator safety was the priority so Toyota lined up the course layout with steel Armco guardrails, catch fencing and concrete barriers. The Automobile Association Philippines oversaw and layout of the track for safety and made changes and recommendations; there were the sanctioning body after all. The cost of all that track safety alone? Think PhP 7 million.
We started to practice on the track and get familiar with the seven corners; the surface, the trickyhairpins and chicanes. This was nothing like Clark Speedway; a racetrack were balancing speed in the corners was key. McKinley West track was one drag race to another. The brakes were taking a lot of punishment in those corners and the strain on the gearbox can be clearly heard. Doing a quick lap is easy. Doing 20 quick laps without destroying the brake pads and the gearbox will be tough to ask of any race car, perhaps even too much.
When qualifying came, we all headed out on track to push our limits and determine our positions. The AAP will only allow 20 of them in one race; 37 drivers on one 1.8 km racetrack was simply too much to be able to race safely. As a result, the top 20 will get to race in the main heats, while the remainder of the customer drivers will join the media (us) and celebrities for the promotional race.
I put in my quickest lap so far at 1:14.654, while Paulo was right behind at 1:14.753; just 0.99 seconds separated us. Sam YG was our polesitter after he broke into the 1:13's. To put those times in perspective, the drivers in the Vios Cup class (with the newer cars) were qualifying in the 1:10's and 1:11's. This race is going to be interesting indeed.
On race day we line up on the grid. Sam YG is occupying pole position for our grid with myself in P2, Paulo in P3, Phoemela Baranda in P4, so on and so forth. I'm raring to go, and when the lights went green, all the Vios Cup cars in our grid set off.
I caught Sam YG napping (or meditating?) at the start and jump ahead of him for the lead into turn one. Just as I exit the first hairpin on the opening lap the red flags came out; Ira Panganiban had crashed spectacularly after contact with another car sent him into the barriers. He was OK, but now I have to give up the lead for the single file restart because we had just barely cleared the first corner, much less complete the one lap needed for me to keep P1. Oh crap.
We're lined up again for the rolling start; now I have to pass Sam again if I wanted a chance to get ahead. I apply pressure but he keeps just enough composure to keep me behind. We race for a few laps, but then there was another red flag; Rhian had crashed at the first gear chicane. By this point we've been in the car for almost an hour and have had to deal with two race stoppages. I was physically spent being the heaviest driver here, but we all had to push the limits of our endurance.
The race was given the green light again, but at this point my brakes were spent; I had consumed too much of my brake pads trying to push Sam into a mistake. In my mirrors, Paulo was clearly making up the gap; enough to make a dive into Turn 3 (something he had been trying on me during practice). He times it well and I had no choice but to let him have the position, but in reality, it was all I could do to hold station until the checkered flag with brakes that felt like sponges.
Back at the pits, there was jubilation for some, but not for me. I know I pushed it hard, but I was completely spent. I physically could not get out of my seat in the car. Maybe I should have taken that diet more seriously, but it was too late for that now. My focus was on Race 6; a race that, in my mind, was going to be no-holds barred.
On the racetrack for Race 6 in the customer class, there was plenty of on track mayhem; so much so that they called the race off at half distance given that the drivers were all hot to win and crashed left, right and center. There was even a photo of Inaki Araneta flying sideways on the main straight. This is dangerous, but that's always the risk in any kind of motorsport. And now it's our turn. Gulp.
As a result of the Vios Cup Class being called off way earlier, our race was likewise shortened due to the dying light. Now I had just 11 laps to pass Paulo in P2 instead of 20. Even more important, given that it was going to be a half of the race meant that I didn't have a mathematical chance of winning anymore even if I passed him, so I really had nothing more to lose. Contact be damned.
We made a rolling start, headlights on full blast as daylight was running out faster than we were racing. I can see that I'm gradually reeling in Paulo and Sam, but I would have to take a lot of risks to pull it off.
On turn three there was no distance between us. Sam brakes for the corner, then Paulo tries to dive on the inside. I know the car can make it, so I dive further inside, essentially making it a three wide entry into the corner. I stomped on the brake pedal and... it felt like I stepped on air. Paulo and Sam initiated their turn but my bumper was sticking out of the hairpin, just enough for Paulo's rear left door to clip it and send me into the tire barrier.
At the end of the race, we head back to the pits and I get out of the car. I knelt down in front of the car and felt the damage from the contact with another car and the barrier. I had lost out, but that's racing, and that's the Toyota Vios Cup.
People think that winning is everything, but in reality you learn as much (or even more) from a tough loss than you would from a tough victory. You give it your all and hope for the best. That's the exhilarating fun of it. That's waku-doki.
If you ever get the chance to join the Vios Cup as a driver one thing is guaranteed: at the end of every race you'll walk away from the track with a smile, a couple new buddies and one hell of a story -or a few half truths- to tell.