Palms sweaty. Eyes scanning the road. Ears trying to keep up with the pace and direction notes from my co-driver, Iñigo Roces. This is the Sunshine Television Auto Rally Corporate Challenge, and it's turning into an interesting event.
When I got the call up from Toyota a few weeks ago to drive for them in the inaugural STV Auto Rally, my answer was a quick and easy 'yes'.
Images of high performance cars going sideways while galleries of rally fans cheer from the sidelines immediately came to mind, but this is far from that. In fact, this is very different, because the ARCC is a revival of the classic Sampaguita Rally. Whereas the typical auto rally is about finishing the course in the shortest aggregate time possible, the ARCC is an on-time, all-the-time competition wherein driver/co-driver teams target certain times for each stage and checkpoint. Arrive at a checkpoint a second or more earlier than expected, you get demerits. Same goes if you arrive late.
With a record 63 cars from various manufacturers participating, the STV ARCC set a milestone for the largest ever starting field in in the history of Philippine motorsports. Setting off from Ortigas Home Depot, all teams set off for Subic to begin the rally.
From a pair of Porsche 911 Turbos, a couple Chrysler 300Cs, a good chunk of the Subaru high performance lineup, to even the little Hyundai i10, the field is as varied as can be. Since this is an on-time, all-the-time rally, consistency, not speed, is of the essence. With Team Toyota-Lexus, we picked the Toyota Fortuner TRD as our weapon of choice, all the better to be in a larger car with more room; it's going to be a long day, and cabin fever is something that can easily set in. Brent Co and Roselle Lim are in with Team Nissan UMC, and have chosen the Navara as their steed.
Arriving at Subic after driving behind the rather gorgeous tail of the Porsche Panamera Turbo, it was time to start. We got our course book, and immediately, I felt I had made the right choice of driving, as my co-driver was computing the target times for the rally.
A few weeks prior, we were given a briefing as to what was going to take place today. Apparently, there's a lot of math involved when it comes to computing target times based on average speeds, sector distances and speedometer error. Now it was time to apply it, but time is something we don't have a lot of to compute accurately.
It was pretty stressful, but strangely satisfying. Following the routebook, computing on the fly and looking out for checkpoints was quite a challenge. The first half of the day took us through Subic's main roads, then onto the Naval Magazine area where the U.S. Navy stored their munitions in camouflaged bunkers. Roads barely 1 and a half cars in width proved a challenge, especially when there's another oncoming rally participant.
After the first half of the day, we stopped at the Subic International Raceway for lunch, then a Super Special Stage around the racetrack. The second half of the day was interesting, taking the cars around the metropolitan portion of Subic Bay. Driving busy streets with traffic lights, traffic jams, pedestrians keeps you on your toes, even more so when you have to also look at speed limits and stop signs lest you be caught out by the authorities.
At the end of the race at the beachfront, there was time for the participants to gather and compare experiences. Some missed checkpoints because the standees were blown down by the wind. Some were held up in heavier traffic. Some didn't like the Sampaguita rally rules and would have preferred a speed competition instead. Some just simply got lost in translation... or computation.
Sure, it's not the kind of rally we're used to seeing and joining, but rallies are about driving real roads with real world driving conditions. All the extraneous factors like getting lost, missed checkpoints, pedestrians and even traffic made it as genuine a rally experience as any, and you don't have to have a fast, expensive car to enjoy the challenge.