There we were, Inigo, JC and I, driving within the canopied jungle of Subic Bay. JC was navigating, Inigo was calling out the current time and speed, and I'm behind the wheel of the C-Class.

Yes, we just missed a turn. Yes, we're lost.

Welcome to the STV Auto Rally Corporate Challenge.

Rewind a few weeks, and we were given a call by our dear friend, Grace Enriquez, to see if we would like to join the STV ARCC as a part of team Mercedes-Benz. The "yes" was almost automatic, as given a choice of a car that we wouldn't mind being stuck in for hours on end, a comfortable, classy Mercedes was at the top spectrum of a very short list. And with the line up of a C-Class, an E-Class and a GLK, I knew we had a great stable of cars around.

Now, while most rallies are speed competitions that are against the clock, the ARCC, on the other hand, is not. It is a race "with the clock", where the name of the game is to accomplish the sectors and stages within a very specific time frame. This is not the first time I've taken part in such a rally, as Inigo and I took part in last year's STV ARCC as part of Team Toyota, driving a Fortuner with the TRD modifications on it.

Last year's Auto Rally was really more of a learning experience for the organizers as we did encounter a lot of problems along the way. Checkpoint signs were often blown down by the wind, causing participants to miss them entirely. At one point we were stuck inside the Subic International Raceway for lunch, and ended up waiting an extra 2 hours just to set off for the next leg. I don't think our good friend and organizer, Georges Ramirez, took siestas into account with the travel times.

It wasn't only the organizers that had hiccups last year, as the participants too had plenty of issues to deal with. We had trouble computing the target times because for most of us, it was our first time to take part in such a rally, myself included. Being the co-driver proved to be a real challenge, as navigating via the route book was stressful. Not only that, the co-driver he have to monitor the distances covered via the odometer/trip meter, he also had to work out the speedo and odometer errors (how far off the readings are from the actual), closely monitor the pace, keep a stopwatch running and go down to ring the bells at checkpoints. We also had to contend with traffic and accidents. I remember a particular incident where we had just come out of a blind corner in the Subic Naval Magazine area and found ourselves face to face with a multi-million peso Porsche Panamera. Not a car you would want a collision with.

So, based on last year's experience, I was looking forward to a much better ARCC this year. Already, there was a big improvement by choosing to set off from within Subic as opposed to last year's take off at the Ortigas Home Depot, neccessitating a transit period between Manila and the former U.S. Naval Station. It gave a chance for teams and participants to stay overnight at any of Subic's numerous hotels to stay fresh and rested for the next day's activities.

When morning came, we found ourselves at the Subic International Airport for the opening proceedings. It was pretty straightforward, as we signed in and picked up our timesheets and routebooks. A novel idea was having 3 people in a car instead of last year's 2. Having just a driver and co-driver made for a difficult race, as the co-driver tended to be overloaded with things to keep track of. Thus, having 3 people in a car made for a better split of duties for the race: one to drive, one to navigate, and one to compute and keep track of the sector times. And thus, for this year's rally, the C-Class team was composed of myself and's Inigo Roces and JC Pulido. We were lucky as the three of us are already used to working with each other for a very long time, though I do hope cabin fever won't get us.

After gathering at the airport tarmac for the photo op and other opening ceremonies, I found myself completely absorbed into computing our target times. It was a relatively simple formula based on the two given variables on the routebook -speed and distance- to come up with the sector times on the regular stages.

The ARCC was divided into 4 separate stages: a Jungle stage that courses through the Naval Mag area, an Urban stage that focuses in the area around the Bay area of Subic, an Airport special stage and a Kamana special stage. The target times we computed are applied to the Urban and Jungle stages, while the Airport and Kamana special stages had the target time of 1 minute 30 seconds posted, all we had to do was to hit the mark as closely as possible.

Instead of one big pack of cars setting off one after the other like last year, the 2011 ARCC field of 57 cars were divided into two groups. Group A would tackle the Jungle stage and Kamana special stage in the morning, while Group B would start off with the Airport special stage and go on to the Urban stage. This was another significant improvement over last year, as instead of having one big group tackling the same route at the same time, the two groups were divided to be able to take on two very different ones, preventing clogging and minimizing incidents amongst cars as diverse from the ultra-luxurious Porsche Panamera to the latest subcompact hatch, the Ford Fiesta.

Being in team Mercedes, we were in Group B. Since I was going to be sitting in the back most of the time, I chose to drive the Airport special stage, with Inigo pointing out the turns and JC in the back counting me down from the target time of 1 minute 30 seconds. It was a good show of our teamwork, as we clocked in at 1 minute, 30.06 seconds

After the special stage, we switched positions so that JC would drive with Inigo navigating and I in the back keeping track of target times and speeds. Over each area on the routebook there is a particular average speed, usually based on the speed limit in the area. To take us around the turns, we were to use the "tulips" on the routebook; diagrams of corners and intersections with pertinent landmarks clearly noted. Checkpoints are not indicated on the routebook, which is why it is vital to stay on the target speeds and target times per sector, which would ensure that you would clock in as close to the target time as possible.

With the morning's run completed, lunch proved to be quick and easy, and allowed a little time to do some more computing for target times for the afternoon session. With the computing complete, I was behind the wheel of the C200 CGI, with Inigo keeping time in the back and JC navigating in front.

After completing the Kamana special stage, somehow, all three of us somehow missed a turn, which meant doubling back to return to the correct route. It proved to be a challenge to try and make up nearly 5 lost minutes, but at the end of it all, we ended up finishing the last sector a full 30 seconds early.

At the awarding ceremony several days later, it seems that our Mercedes-Benz team was able to place third overall, ahead of Volvo in 4th and behind 2nd placer Kia with Subaru, driven by the Subaru Society, taking top honors. Our time of 1 minute 30.06 seconds at the Airport was good enough to get us tied in for first in that superspecial, along with a Montero Sport fielded by Mitsubishi.

Taking top honors for the Individual Car Category was the Subaru Legacy with Eric, Maochi and Jic; in second was the Subaru Impreza STI with Raffy, Juny and Chez; in third was the Kia Soul with Steve, Shariffa, and Lester; and lastly in 4th was the Volvo S60 driven by Carla, Rani and Igor.

All in all, the 2011 STV Auto Rally Corporate Challenge proved to be a much better experience, where lessons learned for last year were applied, making for much closer competition.

If the 2011 running of the ARCC was any indication, 2012's will be even better. I can't wait.