You obviously haven't competed in the most challenging kart race if you haven't competed in an endurance race before. Sure you'd say its just a normal endurance race. But what this writer recently experienced was a 24-hour Endurance Race which was held at the Manila Speedzone on November 20-21, 2004, which also celebrated the second year anniversary of karting facility in the country.
Through the kind efforts of track owner and operator Mr. Hans Desmet, I was given a chance to partake in this historical event together with members of the motoring media. Our team was composed of, Aris Ilagan (Manila Bulletin), Andy Leuterio (Philippine Star), Brian Afuang (Manila Times), Cyn Icasas (C! Magazine), JP Tuason (Manila Bulletin), Manny Delos Reyes (Speed Magazine), Raoul Floresca (Scooterista), Vic Icasas (C! Magazine) and yours truly. But we were simply undermanned for the task as the other teams had at least 12 members each.
A total of six teams participated, Team Bridgestone-Puma-A3 Motorsports, R33-Marcelo Racing Team, RPM, Optimex Team from Belgium, Media Team and MP Turbo which came as a last minute entry with the team formed just before the qualifying heat. A very good turnout for a very challenging event which saw professional racers, racing enthusiasts, car enthusiasts and media together in one event.
A drivers briefing was done just to discuss the rules of the event with the participants and also finalize the team lineups. We also drew our kart numbers. Each team were to draw a main kart and a spare kart which will come into use in the case of breakdown of the main kart. We got number 19 for our main kart and number 8 as our spare. There we also saw who we were up against and said to ourselves that we are up against some of the best drivers in the country and that even if we just finish the 24-hour race, it would be a victory in itself.
After the briefing was a free practice session where we were allowed to test both karts and have the setups changed. Pedal adjustments, tire pressure and bolt tightening were the only allowed changes to the karts. Afterwhich was the qualifying session where we elected Vic Icasas to drive for the team since he is the quickest driver. The format for the qualifying session was done "F1 style," one out lap, one hot lap, and one in lap. We landed in the 3rd spot, while Team R33-Marcelo Racing Team got pole with Tom Desmet at the helm. As the session neared its end, dark clouds began to form threatening with heavy rain.
As the qualifying session ended, the starting positions were decided. Team R33-Marcelo Racing on pole, followed by Team Bridgestone-Puma-A3 Motorsports, MP Turbo, Media Team, RPM, and the Optimex Team. I was elected by the team to start as first driver. Starting format was done Le Mans style where drivers run to their karts from the opposite side. It was approximately 2pm, right before the starting flag dropped, raindrops fell from the sky. Little did we know that it would rain like it never rained before, because it practically didn't stop raining for remainder of the day.
This writer, being the first to run, was to embark on a race which had virtually no end, as you go lap after lap. It was very exciting in turn one, but trying to play safe, I tried to move away from the action. But a bump from behind caused my kart to skid and lose position, which slid our team down to fourth. Polesitter Tom Desmet made a strong start leading the race from Ivan Carapiet who starts for the Bridgestone. After 20 laps, trouble arose as the engine seemed to be choking with water as it was seeping through the uncovered part of the air intake. I tried to stay out further and hoped the problem would go away to avoid a pit stop.
But alas, after 5 laps, I decided to bring the kart in and the mechanics quickly cleaned out the water and reapplied the plastic cover which work though the race. After 10 fast laps within the 1:08 and 1:09 range, another problem came, my helmet visor broke which I had to hold with my hand to keep it from falling. But by this time, all of the other teams were having the same engine problems I encountered early in the race and were forced to pit in. By lap 45, I was really having a hard time and pulled in for a driver change. Our next driver Vic hopped in and raced on until our predetermined refueling lap of 80 laps which we set as our strategy to maximize the tank of fuel. Ahead of us was still a tight battle between RPM and MP Turbo for 3rd and 4th.
Three hours into the race, Team R33-Marcelo Racing wasn't having the best of luck as both of their karts suffered from continuous technical failures. Also note that they are the first team to use their spare kart. After thinking that they would be safe with the new kart as Tom Desmet raced on, disaster struck again as the rear left wheel of their kart went loose. Luckily for them, Tom was able to sense the problem and pit in immediately after a lap to avoid serious damage to the wheel hub.
Team Bridgestone-Puma-A3 was ahead of the pack as they continued to pull away at breakneck pace. The RPM team which was composed of many talented professional drivers with likes of Carlos Anton, Mike Tuason, and Renan Morales held their pace in 2nd just ahead of the well represented MP Turbo team consisting of 19 members. Our media team was quickly catching up as we managed to pull away from the Belgian Optimex Team which was running ahead of R33-Marcelo Racing which was now trying to catch up from last place.
As we approached the sixth hour of racing, it was still the same as the track was really flooded and rain continued to pour down on us. By this time, Team R33-Marcelo still was pushing very hard with fast laptimes just to make up for time they lost with their unfortunate kart problems in the first three hours of the race. Little did everyone know, that they had something up their sleeve when they unleashed John Marcelo into the track who would race for six consecutive hours which saved them a lot of time from driver changes. The rained eased off a bit on us.
But it was still the all-star Bridgestone-Puma-A3 Team which was still ahead of the back still charging ahead like there's no tomorrow. Their team was also composed of several professional drivers in the likes of Philip Alvendia, Mark Bumgarner, Marlon Stockinger, and Indy Villalon. Also part of their lineup were several Speedzone regulars who were equally talented drivers who posted very fast laptimes which allowed to them further pull away and extend their lead. They were simply a team prepared and focused on winning the race, anything less than 1st place is nothing to them.
By the 9th-hour conditions were improving a bit as Andy Leuterio hopped in to replace JP Tuason after running a 2-1/2 hour stint with very impressive wet track laptimes in the 1:04 and 1:05 range. But ahead and in charge was Bridgestone with Jeff Reyes posting stunning 1:02 laptimes in the wet! They have completed 482 laps as they led the race with approximately 1000 laps before the checkered flag. This meant that the window of hope was still open for the other teams as anything could still happen at this point of the race. By the next hour, we dropped a position down to 5th as the Optimex Team charged hard with their best driver shaving 4 seconds a lap from our lead over them. The cavalry had also arrived with Ditri Villacorta and Vince Tempongko, whom Vic called upon just a couple of hours ago, coming over to fill our undermanned team. On the next hour, it was again time for a driver change as JP Tuason again stepped in for his final stint which gave us back P4. But at this time, I left the track to go home and freshen myself. I was able to update on the status of team through SMS and online through the WiFi access provided by our wireless partner Airborne Access.
Through the 12th hour, it was very apparent that Bridgestone-Puma-A3 would take the victory granting they would not experience any problems with their kart. By this time, race commentator Mike Potenciano (who was also running with the MP Turbo team) hatched a guess the winning number of laps sidebet contest which helped most of the people pass the time. Our teammate Cyn Icasas took home the prize for the sidebet which totalled to 7,400 pesos. Through the 12th hour, it was very apparent that they would take the victory granting they would not experience any problems with their kart. Interestingly, R33-Marcelo was really maximizing their drivers as they haven't been half-way through their driver lineup midway through the race.
It was around 4am as Vic was getting ready for his stint, the hard charging R33 manages to snag P4 from us relegating us to 5th but still ahead of Optimex. Meanwhile up ahead was still a close battle between RPM and MP Turbo who tried to outlap each other and traded 2nd and 3rd positions. Vic finally went in to replace Ditri and ran for three straight hours to extend our lead over Optimex and hopefully gain a position. Stamina was indeed running out for our drivers, but we still managed to push ahead.
As this writer returned to the track well rested and freshened up, the rain had stopped and the sun was up signalling that the track would be drying up and laptimes soon became quicker and quicker as each lap went. It was Cyn on track at the time posting very good laptimes within the 56-57 second range. As the race was running towards the end we strategized a driving plan which meant that only two drivers will be left. And Vic chose to drive first and this writer was left to be the anchor for the last hour of racing. The Bridgestone team was still ahead of the pack, and poised to take the win as the hours slowly went by.
Down to the last 2-1/2 hours of racing, Vic went in for the team and had an exciting duel with Mike Tuason and posted his personal best of 55 seconds as he charged behind the former. I was on deck at the pits and watching and cheering my teammate on as I awaited my turn. Little did I also know that it would be longest 1 hour of my life as I went in the kart and counted the laps to pass by. We planned an early refuel stop so that we will be finishing the remainder of the race without fuelling anymore. Which was a good idea as the other teams struggled to fuel about 20-30 laps left in the race.
This writer was also hoping to see a 55 second laptime similar to teammate Vic Icasas, but unforunately the best I could do was 56 and did several of those just to keep ahead of a hard charging Optimex team which had again their fastest driver aboard posting simliar laptimes which meant that any major mistake on my part would mean disaster for our team. I was also under pressure as the faster drivers were driving by. And was even caught in the middle of the battle between 3rd and 4th place runners Mike Tuason (RPM) and Tom Desmet (R33), because at that time MP Turbo with Jonathan Dael at the helm was already able to pull away from RPM for a comfortable 4 lap lead 2nd. Bridgestone was again up ahead of the order pulling away lap after lap with team boss Steven Tagle running the final stint.
As the final moments neared, my stamina level was surely below bordering zero already at this time as I struggled to turn the wheel with tired arms. I counted as the laps went by, which seemed never ending. It was clearly getting to be the longest one hour of this writer's life. And as the checkered flag dropped, I raised my arms not as a sign of taking first place but as a victory of the most challenging 24-hours of my life. The race ended with The Bridgestone-Puma-A3 Motorsports 24-hour Karting Team finishing 1341 laps and taking the checkered flag. MP Turbo took second, Team RPM finished third ahead of R33-Marcelo Racing Team, our Media Team took fifth, while the Beligian Optimex Team rounded up the finishers in 6th.
Being part of a historic and challenging event, we did not go empty handed as we all received a small but meaningful trophy that says "I Did It!" Which was more than enough reason to be happy.