Roaring engines, load exhaust notes, lots of dust, and the presence of a bevy of celebrities and motoring journalists filled the Fort Bonifacio Global City open grounds March 25 as Ford Group Philippines held the first leg of the Ford Focus Celebrity Cup for Charity and Media Rally Challenge.

Local celebrities - such as 89.9 DWTM's Crystal, sisters Issa and Cheska Litton, Quezon province vice-governor JJ Suarez and Straight Talk's Cito Beltran - and a number of the motoring media took to two similar dirt tracks designed by Tuason Racing School (TRS) head JP Tuason for some head-to-head, time trial, rallycross-type racing.

Prior to the races proper, TRS unveiled the very car that celebrities and motoring media would be using for the rally challenge - the Ford Focus Trend 1.6L m/t. This newest Focus variant was chosen as the official car of the Ford Focus Celebrity Cup for Charity and Media Rally Challenge and the TRS Ford Focus Cup, thanks to its 104 hp, 145 Nm, 16-valve inline-four double overhead camshaft (DOHC) Duratec engine and Ford's proprietary Control Blade rear suspension. Clad in white, red and blue trim and 18-inch five-spoke Rota wheels, the vehicle elicited oohs and aahs from the gathered crowd.

Now for the show

After the unveiling, celebrities and motoring media alike were briefed by Mr. Tuason about the rules and regulations of the Ford Focus Celebrity Cup for Charity and Media Rally Challenge. Mr. Tuason revealed that the races would pit celebrities against celebrities, media against media in head-to-head, randomly drawn battles to determine preliminary round winners. They would compete against each other but separately, on two similar technical but tight dirt tracks featuring a figure eight weave and designed by Mr. Tuason to showcase the Focus Trend's strong torque and rally heritage.

Winners in the head-to-head battles would advance to the second round in a race against time, while first round losers may sit back, enjoy the Focus Trend tearing up the tracks and have an opportunity to test drive the three Focus variants - the 1.8L Ghia four-door sedan, the 2.0L hatchback and the 1.6L Trend - around the tarmac avenues of The Fort.

Celebrities were given four practice laps, with a subsequent fifth lap serving as a competitor's hot lap. Motoring media, on the other hand, were given three practice laps and a subsequent fourth lap serving as a competitor's hot lap. First one to the checkered flag will qualify for the second elimination.

In the celebrity division, Mark Leviste, former press secretary Mike Toledo, Miles Roces, Quezon province vice-governor JJ Suarez, Straight Talk's Cito Beltran, Louie Ysmael, Studio 23 Hotwire's Jinno Rufino, Christopher Peralta, ABS-CBN's Ernie Lopez, Paolo San Mateo, Dax Chua, Solar Sports' Drinie Aguilar, Denjo Ramos, actor Paolo Paraiso, Dino Chua, Joseph Yuico and sister tandem Issa and Cheska Litton advanced to the second round. Mr. Suarez clocked the best time of the afternoon with a 38-second lap around the course.

The media division first round winners were Philippine Star's Jeff Reyes, Stoplight TV's (and TRS Ford Lynx Cup veteran) Eggay Quesada, Inside Racing's Al Camba, Ricci Abrina and Love-Love Tioseco, C's Chris Van Hoeven,'s Marvin Tan, Speed Magazine's Manny de los Reyes, Slipstream's Lori Uy, Artie Lopez and Ritchie Leong, Sunshine TV's Matt Mallari, Manila Times' Brian Afuang and Business Mirror's Andy Sevilla. Mr. Quesada clocked a 40.07-second lap to nail the best time in the media division's first round.

The next round ranked the top ten drivers in each division by time, with fastest time being the winner for the day. In the celebrity division, ABS-CBN's Ernie Lopez took first place honors with a 41.51-second lap, earning him a set of Goodyear tires, a pair of Oakley sunglasses and two Asian Spirit round trip tickets to anywhere in the ASEAN region. Cito Beltran took second place with a 42.96-second lap, while Paolo Paraiso bagged third place with a 43.22-second lap. Issa Litton got fourth place with a 44.22-second lap.

In the media division, Manila Times' Brian Afuang took first place honors (along with a set of Goodyear tires and an Oakley gift pack) with a 41.52-second lap, aided by five-second penalties to Philippine Star's Jeff Reyes and C's Chris Van Hoeven for hitting pylons around the course. Business Mirror's Andy Sevilla took second place with a 41.83-second lap, while Speed Magazine's Manny de los Reyes took third place with a 42.14-second lap.

Mr. Tuason also revealed that the Ford Focus Celebrity Cup for Charity and Media Rally Challenge would be a four-leg event, with round two at the Batangas Racing Circuit (BRC) in Rosario, Batangas. Qualified participants from round one at The Fort will be given a full day experience on the track, with a time trial course offering to narrow down participants. Round three shall be at the Subic International Raceway, where participants will undergo advance race training for two days in preparation for the final leg of the challenge at BRC. The BRC final leg will feature a media-celebrity team-up and will be competing as a team. The winner of the Ford Focus Celebrity Cup for Charity and Media Rally Challenge will get Php 100,000, which will be donated to the charity of his/her choice.

Mr. Tuason and Ford vice-president for Sales and Marketing Luie Dy Buncio were happy that 79 media people registered for the event (with 38 media members racing) and 35 celebrities showed up for the event (with 30 celebrities racing). "We're very thrilled to give our celebrity and media friends a chance to experience the excitement and glamour of this prestigious motor sports activity. The Ford Focus is the perfect vehicle for this activity, as this car has been synonymous to action-packed racing. Proof of this are the accolades and awards the Ford Focus has continuously reaped in several races of the World Rally Championship," added Mr. Dy Buncio.