It’s not every day you get the opportunity to compete in a championship racing series. More so, to be doing it for free with all the equipment (and even the vehicle) needed to race already provided for you. This is why when Toyota Motor Philippines started looking for participants to join the media class of the Vios Racing Festival, I quickly signed myself up.

I’ll be the first to say I’m not the most experienced racer in the media class of the Vios Racing Festival. The fact of the matter is that I’m one of the youngest members of the Philippine motoring media to be competing. Though I have gone on track days once or twice, it’s still not enough to count as a proper racing experience. Most of my seat time was spent in front of the television screen playing Gran Turismo or Maximum Tune at the local arcades.

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To make matters worse, I was going up against fellow motoring journalists who either have a motorsports background or have had years of racing experience from different race series. Furthermore, we found out that we wouldn't be competing in a circuit race, unlike the previous seasons of the Vios Cup. Instead, the media class would be competing in the newly introduced Vios Autocross Challenge format.  

I, for one, have never competed nor tried driving an autocross course - ever. As a result, the first leg of the Vios Autocross Challenge was literally a trial by fire for me. Thankfully, we had a practice day the day before the actual competition and I got to get some seat time.

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This brings me to one of the first lessons I learned from VRS – practice makes perfect. As cliché as it sounds, it really is true and applies to all kinds of sports, including motorsports. The autocross course was very complicated and you can easily get lost if you didn't know your way. But if you take the practice runs seriously, then you can easily get up to speed and chances are, you won’t get a DNF. Unfortunately, we only had a limited time to practice, so we didn’t really get to do as many runs as we wanted.

Despite getting three runs in, my time was still in the middle of the pack at the end of the practice day. I told myself as long as didn’t finish in the bottom field, I would be okay with it. But at the same time, watching the other drivers go faster made me realize I can push the car harder without crashing into the barriers or spectators. The fear of crashing or humiliating myself just slowly went away after seeing how fast others could drive.

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As a result, I managed to push harder and go faster on race day as compared to practice. The rush of making it into the finals made me want to push harder as well. It was a do or die situation anyway, and I was in it for fun. Fortunately, my pace got me to bring home a trophy from the first leg of the autocross challenge.

The first leg also made me realize that while autocross and circuit are similar since they involve racing, the two series are also very different. Specifically, in autocross, everything moves a lot faster as all the “corners” are there immediately. It’s also a lot harder to go faster in autocross because of how tight the course is.

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Going into the 2nd second leg of the Vios Autocross Challenge, I felt a lot more confident after competing in the 1st. Though it was now held at Clark International Speedway rather than a parking lot in SM Mall of Asia, it was still a difficult and tight course. Like the first leg, you can easily get lost if you didn’t know how to navigate the track. Fortunately, there was more time to practice this time around. However, the competition was still equally fierce even as new faces showed up.

The media class drivers were even faster than before. All of our times were very close, especially during practice. Nobody was sure who would come out on top during race day. Everyone put their A-game on, including me. I don't know if it was because we were on a race track or people were just generally more competitive. When the dust settled, I managed a good spot on the podium.

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It was the 3rd leg of the Vios Autocross Challenge that proved to be the most difficult for me. For the first time, there was a good chance of it being a wet race. The difficulty of the course was also bumped up by the organizers. Turn too early or too late and you can easily hit a cone, adding two seconds to your time. At the same time, it made the track longer so we could actually feel the thrill of speed much more.

Unlike before, this time, I was way too confident after the second race and it cost me. During the practice sessions, I kept hitting cones and my time quickly dropped down to the middle of the pack. Making matters worse, the new media drivers who joined were really quick too, specifically the younger guys. 

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It was a very frustrating practice session, to say the least. I felt a lot of stress after hitting cones that were easy to dodge. But following some helpful words of advice from my friends who are actively racing, I managed to calm myself down, enjoyed the company of colleagues, and just prepared for the race day. It was all just for fun anyway. Wanting to do better on the 3rd leg, I woke up early and went to practice at 7AM during race day. The track was a bit damp so times were slower. But, it would end up helping me out later on that day. 

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During the final runs of the Autocross Challenge leg three, it poured, making it harder to go fast on the track. Personally, it felt as if it was just a battle of will power. How fast you will go depends on how scared you are and how confident you are with the Vios OMR. 

Probably after forgetting what lesson I learned from the second round, I was way too confident especially since I got to practice in the wet. As a result, I hit a cone on both runs in the final which added two seconds to my final time. I felt devastated because I knew I could have done better.

My take away from the third leg? Don't be too eager. I could have easily thrown away my spot in the final run by hitting that one cone. Fortunately, it was still enough to keep me in position. Well, barely, at least. But if any of the finalists managed to set a faster time, I would have been in real trouble.

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Despite hitting a cone during the finals of leg three, it was the last leg of the Vios Racing Festival that actually taught me a lesson. Like the other races, there were new drivers competing in the media class. This time around, they were faster than me - a lot. Nerves were admittedly a big part for and in everybody's frame of mind. From the practice sessions alone, you can easily see the huge margin between the good drivers and the really fast drivers.

Fortunately, I was able to keep up with some of them and still found myself competing in the finals. My last two runs were very close to the times of my competitor. In fact, in one run we had the same time, down to the last hundredths of a second. The message was sent home when I lost by a big margin in the finals to one of the more experienced, and not to mention seasoned motoring journalists. One cone made all the difference. 

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My takeaway from that last leg, and ultimately at the end of the Vios Racing Festival is this: no matter how good you think you are, someone will always be faster than you. Now, this can either motivate you to do better and practice racing some more, or just give up altogether. Me? I choose the former. Ever since the Vios Racing Festival ended, I've been trying to find a way to practice more and hopefully even land a seat in the Vios Circuit Challenge. Hopefully, whoever is reading this does so too. Because with anything in life, really, you shouldn’t give up that easily. And in the bid to keep on being better, we can easily rephrase that to "not giving up at all. Ever."