Ford Group Philippines arrive-and-drive events for the motoring media are tailor-made to showcase the capabilities of Ford's vehicles can do, often with themes that encourage active participation.

So the author was not surprised when Ford sent an invitation for an arrive-and-drive, this time to Puerto Galera using the Ford Explorer. The funny thing was, only a select few media members would go south; the rest would be staying either in the following places: Clearwater Country Club ( Cavite), Clark Air Field (Pampanga), Lake Caliraya (Laguna) or Malarayat Country Club (Batangas). In fact the media present were divided into four teams of six members each, five from the media plus one from Ford.

As the author took a further look into the invitation, it hit the author right smack in the head that this was to be no ordinary trip using Ford's second largest Philippine market-available SUV. This was an adventure race, with each group tasked to complete several activities (with all teams starting and ending at Ford Alabang) that will allow each team to earn points. Based on points earned, Ford Group Philippines will determine the winning team.

Now one would think that there would be lots of strategy going on in order to complete the tasks. And a feeling that everything should move like clockwork in order to win, since the team had the longest trip. Not with this "race" and the author's team.

"At the beginning of the race, all teams will have a perfect score of 100 points as soon as they find their team passport. For each task that the team or a team member fails to perform, corresponding points shall be deducted from their 100 points." - Introductory instruction written on the Ford Road Thrills Passport.

The start of this rather unusual adventure race was held in the wee hour of 0600H at Ford Alabang. After the customary briefing, the members of team Puerto Galera (the author, Daily Tribune's Bam Olivares, Manual's Rovilson Fernandez and Geoff Rodriguez, Top Gear's Clarissa "Conch" Concio and Ford marketing and communications manager Hazel Ludovice) were given 15 minutes to find the keys to their Explorer and their "passport"; otherwise they would be deducted five points for every excess of five minutes. Fortunately the team found the passport and their Explorer's keys in less than three minutes, making the team the earliest to depart from Ford Alabang and giving the team a head start.

Each team was given a clue on where to look for their vehicle's keys and team passports; in team Puerto Galera's case, they were located under the lounge chairs in Ford Alabang's customer waiting area. The team was then given gas cards by Ms. Ludovice for them to gas up at nearby Shell Alabang.

Unfortunately, one of the tasks required was a fuel economy run, with the team that consumed least fuel per kilometer traveled earning 75 points, while the second-least earns 50 points and the third-least will be awarded 25 points. Naturally that meant filling the Explorer's tank to the brim, which saw all teams shaking their vechiles to release the trapped air inside the tank to accommodate all 70 liters of unleaded fuel.

With a lot of grumbles, the team hastened to the Batangas port, from which they would take the RORO going to Occidental Mindoro, then onwards to the Oceana resort in Puerto Galera. With Bam Olivares behind the wheel and the author serving as navigator, team Puerto Galera's Explorer was in econorun mode from Alabang to Batangas port.

Rarely exceeding 2000 rpm when accelerating and gently prodding the Explorer's brake pedal to avoid huge gas consumption, the team leisurely rolled along until it hit a time-related snag; excluding the RORO trip, the team was given three hours to reach Oceana. A total of 100 minutes were logged from Alabang to Batangas port on purely econorun-style driving, which meant only 80 minutes was left to get to the Oceana resort from the Occidental Mindoro port. The team decided to change the driving pace to arrive on time.

As the Explorer hit the road, nothing was spared from the 4-liter SOHC 12-valve V6 engine's 210 hp and 344 NMs of torque while the front/rear independent coilover short/long arm shock and stabilizer bar suspension concoction and ABS/EBD were tested on the twisty flat and mountain roads leading to Oceana resort, all in an effort to reach the destination in less than 80 minutes.

The team reached Oceana with 23 minutes to spare, thanks to Mr. Olivares' "spirited" driving. After checking in, the team then proceeded to take on the prescribed tasks, mainly diving and snorkeling (with the team adding 25 points to their hard-earned 100 points). Other teams had to do ultralite flying and go-karting (Pampanga team), windsurfing and fishing (Lake Caliraya team) and hobiecat sailing and golf (Team Club Malarayat). But Ford's Road Thrills would not be complete without a kayak race and a Best Picture contest. On the second day of the race, every participant had to do a 400m tandem kayak race, with the team that logged the shortest time earning 50 points and teams whose members complete/participate the task earning 25 points.

Despite the presence of seasoned kayakers (Mr. Fernandez and Mr. Rodriguez), the team managed to come out third among all four teams in terms of time. The fastest team Puerto Galera time was a 3:20; the fastest team time was a 3:10 from the tandem of Ivy Nicolas (Philippine Star) and Ronald de los Reyes (Autoreview) from Lake Caliraya.

In spite of the kayaking setback, the team decided through sheer strength of will to pool their efforts into the Best Picture Contest. Teams had to secure one digital camera and take photos with the Ford Explorer in provided event shirts. Given the name, Road Thrills, teams are expected to be as creative as possible, depending on their style and are to choose one picture for submission.

What Conch Concio suggested was to make the team run away with Best Picture. Since the tasks of team Puerto Galera (by then billed as Team Powerboys, alluring to the fact that Mr. Rodriguez was once part of the all-male group known as The Powerboys) were all focused on water-related activities, Ms. Concio recommended that all of us pretend that the Explorer is wading through deep waters, with the rest of the team chasing the SUV decked in watersports gear (i.e., kayaks, oars, fins and snorkels).

Although Team Powerboys finished third overall (including a third-placing 11.3 kms/liter in the Explorer econorun), the Best Picture award was good enough for the author and his teammates. After all, the award for Best Picture was a cool Php 10,000. And even more relishing was the fact that only Team Powerboys and Team Lake Caliraya (who finished first overall, earning them PhP 100,000) managed to come away with prizes from the event. Not bad for a heavily sponsored (Pepsi, Gatorade, Kodak and Epson) arrive and drive.