THINK FAST, BE FAST

It’s the sur­vival of the quick­est in the Philip­pine Au­tocross Championship

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Full Throttle -

Let’s be­gin by stat­ing the ob­vi­ous: Re­gard­less of gen­der, ev­ery soul who has watched car races and chase scenes pretty much dreams of driv­ing fast. That’s why there are no short­age of speed-freak films and TV se­ries, from Gone in

60 Sec­onds, Days of Thun­der, Driven, Au­toman, Knight Rider, to the very lat­est in­stall­ment of The Fast and the Fu­ri­ous fran­chise.

In real life, how­ever, sat­is­fy­ing the need for ul­ti­mate speed is eas­ier imag­ined than ac­tu­ally done. Fast yet safe driv­ing re­quires skills you can­not ac­quire overnight. But notwith­stand­ing how ex­pen­sive this en­deavor can be, it’s not im­pos­si­ble to turn your fever­ish imag­in­ings into re­al­ity. We see proof of this one hu­mid but mer­ci­fully cloudy Sun­day at the Me­ga­tent in Libis, Que­zon City, where a round of the Philip­pine Au­tocross Championship Se­ries is be­ing held.

The fes­tive sig­nage in­di­cates that the event is spon­sored by Cal­tex Havo­line, GT Ra­dial, Aguila Auto Glass, My Shal­dan, the Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion Philip­pines (AAP), CleanShine Mas­ter, and Pen­guin En­gine Oil Ad­di­tives. We ini­tially as­sumed we would see the usual pricey street ma­chines ob­tain­able only to landed oli­garchs, but we are quickly proven in­cor­rect. It’s sur­pris­ing to see a mix of cars rang­ing from sleek sleds to mod­est round­abouts.

There are Toy­ota 86s and Subaru BRZs, cur­rent and pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion Mazda 2s and 3s, Mazda Mi­atas of var­i­ous it­er­a­tions, Honda Civic EKs and EG9s, as well as sub­lime (no of­fense meant) Hyundai Eons and diminu­tive Mit­subishi Mi­rages. We also spot a cou­ple of an­cient 1982 Mit­subishi Lancer box-types and sixth- to sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion Toy­ota Corol­las. This is def­i­nitely not an ex­clu­sive event for the filthy-rich.

The driv­ers them­selves are an equally good ex­am­ple of the gen­er­a­tional di­vide. Some are in their fifties and six­ties, while the youngest is 13 and driv­ing ac­com­pa­nied. Clearly, this event is a fam­ily af­fair.

We in­ter­view Danny San­ti­ago, founder of the se­ries. He is an unas­sum­ing yet clearly charis­matic man—al­most ev­ery par­tic­i­pant gives him a friendly greet­ing or tap on the shoul­der as he goes around su­per­vis­ing the event. “Au­tocross is a race be­tween two cars at a time,” he ex­plains. “We put dif­fer­ent kinds of road ob­sta­cles and turns in the course, and the one with the fastest time wins.” Of the dif­fer­ences be­tween au­tocross, slalom, and cir­cuit rac­ing, he says: “Slalom is one car at a time; au­tocross is two cars at a time. We have third gear. Cir­cuit rac­ing has fourth and fifth gear; slalom has first and sec­ond gear. We’re in the mid­dle of the speed range.”

Given the in­cred­i­bly var­ied mix of ve­hi­cles and driv­ers, there are many classes of com­pe­ti­tion in the event. “We have an av­er­age of 30 classes. We clas­sify driv­ers un­der Novice or Ex­pe­ri­enced. No Pro—wala na­mang pro sa Pilip­inas,” he notes. The cars, mean­while, are “ei­ther Mod­i­fied or Stock. When you say it’s Stock, it’s stock ta­laga—noth­ing changed, no ad­di­tional horse­power or speed.” A cou­ple of cars are bumper-less and have those an­noy­ing (to us, at least) light­en­ing holes, and Danny con­firms that those are in the Mod­i­fied cat­e­gory: “Light­en­ing or ad­ding horse­power for speed— that is con­sid­ered mod­i­fied. But if the ad­di­tion is for the safety of the driver—like sus­pen­sion, tires, bucket seats, seat­belts, brake pads, or shock ab­sorbers—then it would still be con­sid­ered a stock ve­hi­cle.”

Au­tocross events don’t re­quire a rac­ing li­cense—yet. “Right now, the AAP is ob­serv­ing us again,” Danny shares (true enough, we see Art Gue­varra of the AAP keep­ing an eye on the pro­ceed­ings). “Any­one who has a driver li­cense can join. We hold train­ings once in a while for those who are in­ter­ested. We have driv­ing clin­ics in the north and the south, so we go around. If the venue per­mits, we hold clin­ics on Satur­days to teach the driv­ers.”

Aside from Me­ga­tent, the se­ries has been run in Makati and Ala­bang. Some of the other venues out­side of Manila are Santa Rosa in La­guna, Batan­gas, Pam­panga, and Malolos and Mey­cauayan in Bu­la­can. Rac­ing events are held “typ­i­cally monthly,” Danny says, “but there are times there are two events in a sin­gle month. In June, we had one in Lu­zon and one in Visayas. In Au­gust, we have one in Lu­zon, one in Min­danao.” Talk about na­tion­wide!

Asked why driv­ers join, he jokes, “Be­cause they like me?” On a more se­ri­ous note, he replies, “We teach them fast but safe driv­ing. We have all the kinds of turns in the course—easy, medium, and sharp. We in­cor­po­rate the ba­sic chi­canes. They get to learn here. Nearly 90% of the driv­ers in lo­cal cir­cuit rac­ing all started in au­tocross. A lot of older driv­ers then switch to some­thing more se­ri­ous. There are al­ways new stu­dents and be­gin­ners. There are times, too, that the old­timers come back.”

He de­scribes how an au­tocross day is run: “In the morn­ing, there’s reg­is­tra­tion and scru­ti­neer­ing of the cars for safety, then we open the track for prac­tice runs and hold the of­fi­cial runs after­ward. It will con­tinue to 5pm, 7pm— that’s the time we hold the award­ing cer­e­monies, af­ter tal­ly­ing the short­est time around the course to see who wins in each class and over­all.”

“To­day, we have about 50 driv­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing in mul­ti­ple classes,” he con­tin­ues. Each par­tic­i­pant needs a driver li­cense, a safety hel­met, seat­belts, and, of course, a car. We scru­ti­nize the cars for any flaws to en­sure the driv­ers are safe. As for any mem­ber­ship fee, he as­sures there is none. “It’s just the en­try fee when you com­pete per class when you join. We have the cheap­est en­try fee in the whole uni­verse,” he as­sures.

We part ways with a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the au­tocross cul­ture here. Mo­tor­sports is fun, and we’ve come to the con­clu­sion that you don’t have to be well-funded and driv­ing a fancy ma­chine to learn how to drive fast and en­joy at the same time.

Test your skills on a closed course; not on pub­lic streets

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