Mention rally to any motorsports fan and they imagine high-powered, all-wheel drive hatchbacks and sedans kicking up dirt in the faces of spectators. The country meanwhile recently flagged off a different kind of rally race last week — in the form of Targa Manila.
Unlike the road races targas have become known for, Targa Manila is a regularity rally or time-speed-distance rally. Also known as a TSD rally for short, this particular form of motorsport isn't focused on outright speed. A TSD rally goes beyond driver skill as it also requires teamwork, cooperation and a good mathematician. I'll explain that later on.
The participants met up at Manila Polo Club and with me were contributor Aurick Go and our photographer, Kelvin Go. In front of us lay eight Peugeot 208 GTi hatchbacks draped in race liveries alongside other participants in various supercars. Before we got started however, we were taught how to properly run a TSD rally.
Like special stage rallying, you'll need a co-driver; two in fact, because you will also need a timekeeper in the car as well. We were handed a route book, time card, clock, stopwatch and a calculator as tools to be used for the rest of the day. The route book handed to us indicated the recommended speeds, within the limits if I may add, to get the ideal time possible throughout the course. The main goal of a TSD rally is to be “On time, all the time,” meaning you actually get penalties for arriving faster at a checkpoint. Speaking of checkpoints, these stops have clocks wherein the navigator will have to get down from the car, clock in and hop back in to continue driving until you see the next checkpoint.
Here then is where the timekeeper comes in. The timekeeper's job is to remind the driver and the co-driver if they either need to slow down or pick up the pace to get to the next checkpoint on the dot. Math skills are involved since they have to compute for average speed and estimated time of arrival at the next stop. In short, the timekeeper isn't just there to tag along for the drive.
With the briefing over, it was time to hop in the 208 GTi, bring out the route book and start computing for time. First stop: we didn't know — and that is the twist of a TSD rally. Checkpoints can appear out of nowhere, preventing you from attempting a top speed run in Peugeot's hot hatch. On the way out of the city, the biggest opponent was EDSA traffic. We needed to average about 40 kilometers per hour along the clogged thoroughfare to make it on time to the first checkpoint. Surprisingly, it wasn't as bad as we expected and we were approaching NLEX in no time. Unfortunately, that also meant we were way ahead of schedule meaning we had to drive a little slower on the highway.
Our first major setback were roadworks along NLEX and we weren't able to get to the zipper lane in time. We had to slog through traffic, sometimes coming to a dead stop, and saw our lead buffer disappear in an instant. We picked up the pace and eventually found the first checkpoint: Petron Lakeshore. I hurriedly got down from the car and punched in the time card.
After a quick pit-stop, it was time to hit the road again with the next official stop being Clark International Speedway. An easy drive, yes, but not if you have to keep your eyes peeled for checkpoints and navigate the rest of the way. The next checkpoint would be right after the toll plaza as we entered Clark North. It would be the first of many checkpoints strategically placed to throw off the participants. Figuring that the next checkpoint would be at the speedway, we followed the recommended speed at the route book. True enough, there was one right at the track's gate despite the short gap in between the two stops.
It was now time to stretch the legs of the 208 GTi on the track — but with a twist. We had to lap the track close to 2:50.000, continuing the “on time, all the time” theme of the event. After a quick blast around the track, it was time to head to lunch. Before lunch however, there was yet another surprise checkpoint just to catch the participants off-guard as they navigated around Clark.
After a quick meal, we hit SCTEX and with a prescribed speed of 100 km/h, it was long drive along to Subic and at this point, cruise control becomes your best friend. Upon entering Subic, the organizers put up another surprise checkpoint at a seemingly non-descript gas station; a place incognito enough that a pair of Porsches ahead of us just zoomed past, missing the checkpoint entirely. If anything, the sneaky checkpoints were keeping us on edge.
Another entirely different surprise was to be found in the next checkpoint. It was at Networx Jet Sports and rather than just getting your time card stamped and continue on, one of us had to do a lap in a jet ski before our cards were returned. If we didn't take the challenge, we wouldn't be getting our time card back, essentially throwing out all the progress we made at that point. Wanting to stay on schedule, I volunteered to do it.
Back on dry land, we then had to make our way back to Clark Speedway for one more challenge. Cruise control was again our friend going back to the track and, no surprises there, another checkpoint was waiting for us at the gate. For this track outing, we had to do a drag race in the pocket rocket and clock in a good time. After that sprint, it was time to head back to Manila but the rally wasn't over yet; there were still four checkpoints to go.
Looking at the route book, we couldn't see where the next checkpoints would be other than the finish at The Brewery. Along NLEX, we were looking at every gas station for the other checkpoints to no avail, the highway was clear of them. In the city, we kept our eyes peeled even while sitting in traffic. As we got closer and closer to The Brewery, we were thinking that we were handed yet another surprise. True enough, there were only nine checkpoints in the rally instead of twelve as indicated on the cards. Props to the organizers for adding the tiny details that keep participants on their toes until the very end!
As newcomers, we weren't expecting to bring home any awards but we did do well at the race track challenges. Then came the biggest surprise of our day; we actually claimed second in the Peugeot class, what a way to cap an epic road trip. Targa Manila may not be all about speed but it's still a lot of fun as it challenges you in other ways. The best part is, you can enter the targa as a group of friends and share the joy of motorsports. Not to mention you don't even have to reach breakneck speeds to have a shot for the win.
Whether you ended the day with a trophy or not, Targa Manila is also a great way to meet like-minded enthusiasts and talk about cars all day. It's fun and challenging and at the same time and a promising sign for the future of local motorsports. Missed out on this year's event? Don't worry, the folks at Peugeot and Tuason Racing School are stirring something up for next year.