Races come and go, and all have the same objective: to determine who's the fastest. Therefore, numbers churned out like lap times have downward trends. But this time around, in the local setting, there was a race where nothing mattered but the total distance traveled on one full tank. This is to be called the Petron Xtra Mile Challenge.

The premise of this challenge was very simple: Drive as economically as possible by employing different driving techniques to make the most of every drop of Petron XTRA Unleaded. So what are those techniques by the way? For starters, it's having a light foot and the ability to make quick decisions depending on the current road condition so as to keep the trip as consistent, smooth, and virtually brake-free as it could be. But these techniques are not enough, as I found out when I and my editor Brent had the opportunity to join eighteen other journalists in this fuel unique economy run of Petron together with Honda, Neo, Motolite, PLDT MyDSL, and PLDT WeRoam.

As a brief backgrounder, I was officially part of the first Petron Xtra Mile Challenge slated sometime 2006. I was to drive shotgun with my friend, Randy Mencias, under the Team R moniker, with his 2004 Honda Jazz as our competition vehicle. This was the series wherein the 1,400.4 kilometer record was set, by who else but the team Zayco Hermanos of Negros Occidental. We were all set for the run, until the inevitable happened. I suddenly fell ill and was hospitalized a week before the actual run. I was replaced by Randy's friend, Allen Abarintos. That time, I really thought that I will not have another opportunity to be part of this one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime event.

As you could see, I am also fond of traditional races, that is, circuit, drag, slalom, and similar races, but it's just enough for me to be a spectator of those races, for joining them is a big no-no. Blame it on tachophobia (fear of speed) if you will, but the main reason of me not joining those races is the fear of being involved in a high speed accident, which is common place in these kind of events. Perhaps me being a family man is enough reason not to be part of those races, no matter how exciting and adrenaline-filled they may be.

So when news of another Petron Xtra Mile Challenge, a Media Edition that is, reached my inbox, I was too eager to be a part of it, so as my editor Brent, despite his hectic daytime schedule. Brent, being a seasoned driver and a mainstay of races, brings extensive high performance driving experience to this event, which proved to be one of our team's assets. With that, Team AutoIndustriya (AI) officially became one of the teams that challenged the 1,400.4 record. Other teams were Issports Laang of Ira Panganiban and Andy Sevilla, Team Top Gear of Vernon Sarne and Jaykee Evangelista, Team Philippine Star of Jeff Reyes and Lester Dizon, Team Stoplight TV of Eggay Quesada and Giosi Mendoza, Team Busy Bodies of Roman Floresca and Delfin Perez, Team Auto Review of Ronald Rey delos Reyes and Raymund Sanchez, Team Radyo Patrol of Ricky Velasco and Angelo Almonte, Team DZRH-DZRB of Jess Garcia and Joseph Javier and Team Cyberpress of Melvin Calimag and Jing Garcia.

Our official run started one Wednesday of January in Petron Bangui, Ilocos Norte, after a much-needed rest and relaxation at a very posh resort in nearby Pagudpud. Before we're officially flagged-off, all cars were topped up and sealed by representatives from Petron, Automobile Association of the Philippines (AAP), and Car Awards Group, Inc., (CAGI). Prior to the run, the competition vehicles provided by Honda were raffled off to the teams. There were seven Jazzes and three Cities. We ended up with a Honda City, which is an identical twin of the Jazz, except for the rear trunk of the former.

Going back to our run, the first leg mandated us to drive from the flag-off point of Bangui, Ilocos Norte, to the province of Tarlac, an easy 400 kilometer trip. Together with our support vehicle piloted by Binky Siddayao and Ronnie, we drove as economically as possible, negotiating a multitude of obstacles such as tricycles, pedestrians unmindful of passing cars, and the ubiquitous motorcycles riding with wanton disregard for safety. We stopped for breakfast and lunch at Vigan and San Fernando, La Union, respectively. We reached Tarlac a little past three in the afternoon. Throughout the trip, I was more comfortable being the navigator instead of doing driving duties, with which Brent liked doing more. This was to be our task for the succeeding legs.

If the first leg was an endurance battle, with me almost having a heatstroke due to the absence of air-conditioning but with windows up for better fuel economy, the second leg proved to be indifferent as well. It was from Tarlac to Naga, which was another 500-600 kilometer trip. All the teams were flagged off at a very unholy hour of 2:00 AM; the reason was to avoid the EDSA and SLEX traffic build-up during morning rush hour. We stopped for breakfast at Petron SLEX, and then we continued on towards our next stopover, which was Del Gallego in Camarines Sur, for a late lunch. With our bodies already accustomed to the hostile driving condition, we enjoyed this leg more than the first one and arrived at Naga at around 5:00 PM. This time, most of the cars have chalked up the 900++ kilometer mark. In order to beat the 1,400.4 record, each team and their car must travel at least 500 kilometers more, which the amount of fuel left in their tanks may or may not allow.

The last leg proved to be the most crucial of them all. If the previous two legs proved to be a toll to our bodies, the last leg not only exhausted our bodies, but our minds as well. Why is it so? This is the leg where the cars are expected to run out of fuel, our team included. Our mental ordeal began when we were officially flagged off at Petron Naga and then our fuel warning light went up as we entered Albay. At this point we're actually not expecting to make it at Matnog Ferry Terminal in Sorsogon, given also the very poor road conditions and the heavy traffic we've met especially at Albay, wherein the effects of the recent super typhoon was more evident than any other province in the Bicol Region.

But I think this is where the superior fuel quality of Petron XTRA Unleaded came to the picture. Coupled with fuel-efficient driving techniques, it truly gave us the extra mile, as we were able to chalk up some 300 kilometers more, enabling us to reach Matnog, making a U-Turn at the gate, and then going back towards Naga. But fate had the better of us as we only managed to reach Castilla town, still in Sorsogon, when our car already conked out. Still, I am proud that we were able to get 1,257.80 kilometers in one full tank of Petron Xtra Unleaded. We were the fourth vehicle to run out of gas, which I guess is another feat.

No one had set a new record for this edition, but still, everybody had beaten Pocholo Ramirez's record of 1,114 kilometers on one full tank, which is a feat by itself. The winner for this edition was Team Busy Bodies, which had logged a total distance of 1,343.70 kilometers, which is followed by Team Philippine Star with 1,336.00 kilometers, and team DZRH-DZRB with 1,326.70. All the winning teams had the Honda Jazz as their competition vehicle. Aside from the poor road and traffic conditions especially in Albay, everybody's run was somewhat affected by the inclement weather especially in the province of Sorsogon, where the intermittent rains made driving in eco-run mode more difficult.

Weeks and days have passed and I am still on Xtra Mile mode. Now, more than ever, I am very mindful of the way I drive, including the way how I steer, apply the brakes, and press on the throttle. This time also, I am more aware of the road conditions, as this significantly affects the way I drive. I am also limiting the use of air-conditioning, but there is no way that I'll repeat that sauna ambiance. Last, but definitely not the least, I am always keeping in my mind to always fill ‘er up with the right fuel, the one that gives me the Xtra Mile.

Stay tuned for the next Xtra Mile Challenge as the record of 1,400.4 kilometers on one full tank remained unchallenged!