There really is no thrill like competitive motorsport.
Few experiences can compare to a fully-prepped race car going flat out on the main straight of a circuit, or a sports car playing with the limits of tire adhesion around the corners, or the pure, unadulterated satisfaction of besting every other driver on the grid and earning the right to stand on top of the podium. Racing really is a drug— a high that you can pursue legally at the right time, and at the right place.
Despite all the thrills of racing on the circuit, why do certain organized events exist that end up being races on public streets?
To be clear, I'm referring to drives that involve a very long, fixed route that was intended to test the skill and endurance of the participants.
No, they're not called races per se; organizers steer well clear of that term as it not only brings up a legal question (Street racing is illegal, you know.), but also scares away potential sponsors right out the door. Such events typically use phrases such as endurance runs and challenges, among others. Euphemisms, really.
The rules even state that the recommended time of completion involves an average speed that is well below the legal limit, implying that all participants are to follow the proper rules for driving on our public highways, expressways, urban and provincial roads. Such is the reason why events that involve driving on public highways, expressways and provincial roads are often referred to as endurance runs and challenges, and the organizers make sure to use a phrase that connotes that no prize will be awarded for finishing first.
But to fully believe that every single rider and driver will follow the every rule is a problem. It's naïve for us think that every single participant will follow the rules in an event that puts together the quickest motorcycles on the market, the fastest and hottest sports and supercars, as well as experienced performance riders and drivers on one road course. In an environment such as that — one that involves camaraderie as much as it does bravado and pride — a competition of some sort is bound to happen. Whether it's against their own personal speed records, against each other, or against the clock, a race is almost inevitable.
Perhaps the organizers didn't intend it to turn out that way, but that's the reality. Drivers and riders with fast cars and bikes will have a go once the road clears up. And even though there are no prizes for first, the bragging rights up for grabs are more than enough for a good go.
Let's put it in perspective: one such event laid out a course that is 1,200 kilometers long with a recommended completion time of 24 hours. The time is reasonable, and means an average speed of 50 km/h will be good enough. But the 2013 edition of the event saw the top car finish in just 12 hours and 17 minutes while the top motorcycle finisher completed the course in 12 hours and 10 minutes. Those times meant they were pursuing average speeds of almost 100 km/h.
I know 100 km/h doesn't sound so high, but take note: it's the average speed. What that means is it takes into account stops for food, fuel, driver changes, and restroom breaks; valuable minutes that are spent doing 0 km/h. To compensate, a driver will have to push to speeds such as 160 or even 200 km/h just to maintain the 100 average. And that's where the problem is. On the expressway, our limit is 100 km/h; some expressways give an allowance for overtaking at 120 km/h, but no more than that. On provincial highways the limit is 60 km/h, even lower in populated areas. Yes, there is no prize, but pride is plenty of motivation for some of the participants to break the rules and take chances.
Don't get me wrong; I understand perfectly; we enjoy opening up the throttle on a clear road, especially one that snakes around, through, and above the mountains. That's just how we car enthusiasts are wired; to pursue exhilaration through speed. But we must always be within reason and the boundaries of safety in the pursuit of such performance. No racing lines that eat up the opposite lane, no excessive speeds in urban areas, and definitely no maneuvers that put ourselves — and more importantly others — at risk, especially during overtaking. It's one thing to risk yourself on a racetrack by going fast, it's another to drive so recklessly fast on a public road with other motorists and pedestrians.
Mind you, there have already been victims of such runs and more often than not, they're not even in the event. Recently two motorists had to avoid two riders participating in one such event that were taking aggressive lines around a mountain pass. The driver evaded the motorcycles, but ended up crashing into the barriers himself. The photo of the innocent, hapless motorist with his face repaired with stitches should haunt the riders. Collateral damage has a name, and he has a reconfigured face.
Sure, the organizers and participants can take comfort that there were sufficient efforts taken to inform and warn the people of the cities, towns, villages and homes along the route, but given that we typically shrug warnings of storms, what good is a foreword of incoming drivers and riders?
Such is the reality of holding endurance runs and challenges on public roads; they have a high likelihood of devolving into a de-facto street race, and a very dangerous one at that. Not all participants are involved, but all it takes is a few to abuse it and guess what? Party's over.
There's a stark contrast between these endurance runs and some 'on-time, all-the-time' rallies that are run on public roads by a few of our colleagues and affiliate organizations. These events are by invitation only, and the participants are told to stick within very stringent limits and meet an average speed that's well below the limit. The organizers even go so far as to alert the authorities if there are participants that are blatantly disregarding the speed limits. And to give the participants a reprieve to satisfy their need for speed, a circuit or closed course is booked for a special stage, often all out.
Our roads are dangerous enough as they are, and high speeds only increase the risk even further. If you want a test of endurance or skill, take it to the track. The Clark International Speedway and the Batangas Racing Circuit are great places for you to pursue that high of automotive performance for a reasonable daily fee. And you don't have to worry about slow traffic, oblivious tricycles, or children randomly crossing on a track. On the road they're everywhere because they do not recognize the danger and perhaps don't know better. A lot of us do; we just need to exercise that knowledge.
Perhaps its time we realized that Iron Man really only exists in comics and in movies.