Karting in the Philippines has gotten more and more popular over the last few years. With the new, emerging young karters taking the scene by storm, and with the veterans graduating into higher levels of motorsports, karting is finally getting the proper recognition that it deserves. However the fact that there were only very few venues where one could kart seemed to deter beginners from even attempting to participate in the sport. What was needed was a track that is more accessible to regular city folks and also one that is very friendly to newbies. This is where the Manila Speedzone comes in.

"In Belgium alone, which has a total population of nine million, there are 32 places like this," says Hans. "You could say that Belgium is the Mecca of rental go-karting," he adds. Seventeen of the go-kart racetracks in Belgium are owned by Optimex, one of the subsidiaries of the Desmet Group, which is also involed in the rental of rally cars, window glass manufacturing, and historing cars racing. "Racing is really our business," says Hans.

Situated along Marcos Highway in Cainta, The Manila Speedzone was formally opened in November 15, 2002 on a 7800 square-meter private property. The track itself is only 800 meters long, but the surrounding amenities and safety precautions make this a truly world class facility. Belgian owners Hans Desmet and Jan Deryckere of Desmet Group have constructed a number of these "leisure karting" tracks all over the world. Their latest project before the Manila Speedzone was the Hong Kong Karting Mall, an indoor track located in the old Hong Kong Kai Tak airport. The Manila Speedzone track is actually one of the group's longer tracks.

The track is built with European safety and environmental standards. Qualified personnel are always on hand to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the case of any mishaps or mechanical failures. The karts themselves are powered by 6.5hp Honda 4-stroke engines equipped with catalytic converters to reduce noise and pollution. The karts have hydraulic brakes, and are also surrounded by metal bumpers to provide balance as well as protection to the driver in the event of a collision. An electronic scoreboard also displays each lap time as it is completed. "Safety of our customers and caring for the environment are our concerns," says Hans.

After months of hype I finally got to try out the Manila Speedzone for myself. As I arrived at the facility, what struck me immediately was the atmosphere of the entire place. I was expecting the facility to be buzzing from the sounds of the karts but what greeted me was almost the sound of silence. Unlike normal two-stroke race karts, these karts provide almost no noise whatsoever. In fact these karts sounded like electric powered machines. Granted that part of the racing atmosphere is actually the sweet hum of the engines, we have to take into consideration that the track is located in the suburbs. I'm sure the good people of Cainta will not appreciate being awaken early in the morning by the sounds of 2-stroke engines revving past to stratospheric rpms.

After registering and paying the non-member fee of P550 per heat (12 mins.) I was directed to go to the changing/equipment room. Unlike other kart rental facilities here in the Philippines, the Manila Speedzone will actually provide you with a suit, balaclava, and helmet as safety apparel without extra charge. I then proceeded to the pit area to sit in the kart while waiting for my turn. The initial lap came and my impression was that the kart needed more grip. The karts there use hard compound tires which are good for endurance, but do not provide as good a grip as the soft racing tires, especially when they're still cold. After two laps of getting used to the extremely technical track, I was ready to push the karts harder. The track is indeed very difficult. The straightaways are short and the corners are extremely tricky. The chicanes, wide u-turns, and double u-turns provide enough of a challenge even to the most experience drivers. Finding the optimum line throughout all the corners is not as easy as it seems.

After 12 mins. the marshals signaled me into the pits. I changed back into regular clothes and proceeded to the main office. Computerized timing ensures that each participant can request for a summary printout of his/her heat with all lap times listed. I was able to manage a best time of 1:14.1, not bad for my first time, but not necessarily something to be proud of.

Another good thing with the Manila Speedzone is that after karting, you don't really have to leave at once. There's a Sports Bar/Restaurant where you can avail of a variey of food and drink before or after you kart. The place also has a fully functional meeting room with complete AV equipment for corporate events.

The Manila Speedzone is certainly an excellent place to try out karting. It isn't an all-out race track, nor does it try to be one. Instead it's really more of a place to enjoy oneself and learn some of the basic racing fundamentals like the racing line, braking points, etc. etc. It's a leisure karting track, where one can enjoy the pure thrills that karting has to offer.

The Manila Speedzone is now located at Bonifacio Global City. For more information, visit www.speedzone.com.ph.