Facing an old ghost: Autocross
Old mistakes do haunt you.
Six years ago, I lost the chance of a lifetime when I was a PlayStation gamer vying to become a full-fledged real-life racing driver with the Nissan GT Academy. I made it as far as the Silverstone Race Camp in England, and our team was down to the final four competitors. To advance we had to go through a head-to-head knockout round in an autocross course.
I was doing well up to that point, and was faring better than who I had to go against. All I needed to do was just drive my own pace, and I'm on my way to the final... until a very uncharacteristic mistake ended all hope.
The course was like a WRC-type Super Special stage; a Race of Champions-style figure 8 course where you finish where you've started.
The knockout race began, and I had a sizable margin. But as I came around the part where my opponent started his race, I looked at where my rival was and in the process saw a race marshal getting ready to wave the checkered flag. I got distracted. I thought the race was over, and I started celebrating. I slowed down, but the race wasn't done.
That momentary lapse in concentration was enough to knock me out of contention, and my once-in-a-lifetime chance of being a professional racing driver was over. Finished. It's not happening again. Ever.
I've done trackdays and endurance races the years after that, but I've never competed in an autocross event since, let alone in a virtual to reality competition. That was true until last weekend at the 2022 Toyota Gazoo Racing Vios Cup.
I was back as a National Finalist for the GR GT Cup, and I was drafted to represent AutoIndustriya.com in the Autocross Challenge Sporting Class together with Niko, our Creative Director, who's racing in the Promotional Class.
I was back in 2016. It wasn't Silverstone; now I'm in Clark. Here's my chance to do things differently and face the ghosts of the past. So let's do it.
Six years of not doing competitive virtual and real-life racing on a regular basis gave me a reality check. I had a lot of rust to shake off. Some would say it's like riding a bike, but no. Yes you can, but you won't be as good. And that's frustrating as all hell for me.
The main race happened on Saturday, but we were there on Friday to take part in the GR GT Cup National Finals and to practice the Vios Autocross track. The race rust was evident from the virtual race itself, as I failed to get through the GR GT Cup final. I was a good 0.4 seconds shy of making the top four, and I couldn't quite match the times of my peers despite my best efforts.
I didn't feel bad losing. I was just lucky to make it to the National Finals. I never even scored a podium finish in the online rounds. These guys are just too fast for me now. The caliber of sim racing drivers in the Philippines has really leveled up throughout the years I wasn't actively competing. I'm proud to say I went against the best of the best in Philippine sim racing, and I have nothing but respect for them. I've already had my chance. This was theirs.
The itch is still inside me though, and the only way I could let it out is getting back in the driver's seat for the Vios Autocross Challenge. Oh boy.
It wasn't all smooth sailing either. My first practice run in the morning was done in the wet, but I managed to post a competitive time right away. The slippery conditions gave a smirk on my face as I was having fun sliding the car through the 540-degree turns. Clearly, I was happy to be back behind the wheel of a proper race car.
But as the track went dry in the afternoon practice, I suddenly went slower and was even hitting cones that would add two seconds each to my time. That streak continued until the final morning practice on Saturday, and I thought it was getting worse. In racing, you're supposed to clock in faster times in the dry than in the wet, so something was wrong. I knew I had to regroup.
I spent the rest of the morning watching how the other drivers tackle the autocross course and compare it to what I was doing. And to be honest, I wasn't doing anything too different from the other guys. But here's what I realized while I'm on the edge of my seat watching the Circuit Championship race – I was getting too caught up in the moment. I was getting too competitive, and that meant I wasn't having fun behind the wheel anymore.
Goose talked to me. I realized I didn't need to think about it too much. I just needed to drive and enjoy it. So I lined up during the qualifying time trial with only two things in mind – drive, and have fun. And believe me when I say from then on, the Vios Cup Car I was driving was suddenly dancing through my fingers, and my feet were perfectly in sync as I trail brake through the corner entries and mash the throttle as I exit out of the chicanes and loops of the autocross track.
I was back in a good rhythm, and the adrenaline was flowing. By the time I reached the stop box, I was told by the marshals - “Clean run, 41 seconds”. And that was good enough for the fastest time overall in the Media Class.
Once I was wired with that mindset, there was no more looking back. I rode that wave of momentum as I went head-to-head with my media colleagues. When I was completely on it, everything else really slowed down, but the stopwatch says otherwise. It was just me, the Vios Cup Car, and the track. I didn't even see how fast my opponents were going because I was just there. Focused. And nailing every corner of the autocross course.
In the end, I managed to seal the deal in the battle for 1st place. And to put the cherry on top, I even did a personal and category best 40.3 second time on the final two runs. Finally, this was the win I was aiming for. The ghost of 2016 is gone.
With the AutoIndustriya.com family and friends cheering me on, I raised my hands to the sky as I drove down victory lane.
When all was said and done, I reflected as I thanked the Man above for the chance and the blessing.
Obviously, I can't bring back time. I was thinking maybe if I did this six years ago, I would have been a Nismo athlete by now. But things do happen for a reason, and I've finally learned to let go of that past mistake that cost me a chance at doing something great. I hope whoever is reading this would get that same chance as well, and finish whatever ghosts they're dealing with.
Now I can't wait to get back out there. I'm ready to drive even harder. Forward.