THINK FAST, BE FAST
It’s the survival of the quickest in the Philippine Autocross Championship
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