La vida loca Vios!

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MIKE POTENCIANO

MIKE POTENCIANO

La vida loca Vios! I couldn’t think of a better title for this article on the 2016 Toyota Vios Cup which unfolded its third season at the Clark Speedway over the weekend. If you had been following this grass-roots racing series from Day 1, you will definitely agree that it best depicts Toyota’s latest crazy and exciting global promotional campaign.

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With the one-make series, Toyota Motor Philippines Corporation (TMPC) brought back glamour and life to local motor sports. Their Waku Doki advertising slogan had been well promoted in this championship, which in English means “heart pumping, adrenaline racing.” People who were able to witness this spectacle first hand, all came out in awe and wanting more action.

Toyota’s racing history had been closely followed by Filipinos ever since legends Pocholo Ramirez and Dante Silverio drove Corolla Sprinters for racing. They later turned to factory-tuned Celicas to take on the Ford Escorts, Opel Mantas, Holden Toranas and Mini Coopers teams that came over with foreign drivers and bigger engines.

Toyota remained as the preferred machines of Ramirez and Silverio when they ventured into rallying in the mid 1970s. Likewise, Robert Aventajado, Windy Imperial, Dante’s son Jojo Silverio and a lot more dominated the sport during the 1980s. Luckily, our old school car collectors have restored and preserved these race and rally-prepped Toyotas and turned them into priceless gems for generations to appreciate.

In the 1990s, Toyota came up with the Corolla Cup and the first national formula series in a long while, the Formula Toyota. These two race series helped bring back the golden years of racing and ushered in the advent of the country’s first permanent racetracks in Subic and Batangas. All things seemed well for local motor sports until the Asian financial crisis came in 1997. This drove stakeholders, including Toyota, to put their motor sports programs on hold.

There are 50 cars competing in the 2016 Vios Cup with teams as far as Cabanatuan City and Cebu fielding participants. PHOTO BY MIKE POTENCIANO

There are 50 cars competing in the 2016 Vios Cup with teams as far as Cabanatuan City and Cebu fielding participants. PHOTO BY MIKE POTENCIANO

With our country deemed as one of the most important markets in the Asian region today, Toyota opted to return to motor sports with the younger generation in mind. The sub-compact Vios model was the prime candidate for this market niche since it was locally made and cheaper to modify. Toyota Racing Development was simultaneously launched and this paved the way for the easy transformation of the Vios from a regular utility sedan into a full-fledged racing machine!

Nothing beats motor sports as a viable medium to inject appeal and pedigree to a new car model. I remember Volvo converted a station wagon to a full-fledged race car in the 1990s for the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). The company wanted to make a point that Volvo is not all about luxurious and safe cars but fast and exciting to drive, too.

We also had a first hand experience of this motor sports phenomenon when we raced with Hyundai Elantras in the late 1990s. Shortly after news of our win came out, the sales of that model went up significantly, giving credence to the old motor sports marketing adage “What wins on Sunday, sells on Monday!”

After the first Vios Cup season, Toyota dealers were all gung ho in joining the series because of the great promotion done by TMPC. The championship rewarded valuable bragging rights to the winning drivers and teams. With just little more than 20 cars competing during its inaugural race in 2014, the series has now grown to more than 50 in less than three years!

The push for novice and unlicensed race drivers to be the stars in the Toyota Vios Cup was a big gamble and it paid handsomely for Toyota. It’s like watching basketball without imports, but in the end, it’s how the racers performed on the track that is important.

The first year saw a lot of accidents that made the races look more like a demolition derby. It was worse when the event was staged on non-permanent tracks like the McKinley Hills in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Taguig City. TMPC wanted to bring the races closer to the people by staging events in the metropolis and not at the “hard-to-reach” race tracks in Clark and Batangas. However, with novice drivers having very minimal racing seat times and running on a tight, technical course, the inevitable happened. There were lots of wrecked cars and bruised egos during the final BGC race.

Fortunately, the Vios racers have matured after two years and a lot of them had even trained in karting, which helped them a lot. The organizers created the new Super Sporting Class to separate the faster drivers and give the others a chance to shine in their own pace. This makes four classes to be contested now in the Cup, namely Promotions, Celebrity, Sporting and the premiere Super Sporting Classes.

With the first two Super Sporting races won by different drivers, the series promises to be a tight one! Last year’s champion Andres Calma and runner-up Toyota Quezon Avenue driver Allan Uy won one race each with Toyota Alabang’s Estefano Rivera taking second and fourth places and Daniel Miranda taking third in both races. The defending team award champion was Toyota Alabang and it will have a hard time with erstwhile team driver Calma now running his own private team.

The Sporting class now has the celebrity champions Sam YG and Phoemela Baranda fighting the regular drivers. Winners Paolo Rodriguez and Miguel Diaz split the two races but couldn’t sustain them. Miko Maristela and Sean Velasco alternated second and third between themselves in two races and got maximum points.

The Promotions class Race 1 was won by rookie driver Marc Martinez who just got his Vios two weeks before the race. Team Cebu spectacularly dominated Race 2 with Oscar Reyes and Bobby Pangilinan taking second and third in both races.

Birthday boy Jinno Rufino won first place in both races and even leading the Promotions race where the celebrities ran with. Fabio Ide got two second places with Jericho Rosales and Joyce Pring splitting third places in the two races.

If you add two new road venues- Filinvest, Alabang in May and Bacolod in September-plus the final race to be announced, the Toyota Vios Cup will surely be a series that will live by its Waku-Doki reputation.

Even with all the improvements that the Vios Cup is doing, I would like to give my two cents worth for a better 2016 season.

Firstly, I hope TMPC will have the event on multimedia for more people to appreciate the great races. It could be online in real-time and/or produced into a great TV/online race special.

Secondly, I hope that there will be a class for “imports” or the race veterans in the near future. A side event with a Time Attack format in the Toyota 86 pace car will be grand. Lastly, let’s get the race commentary up to par by giving the tools for the announcer to see what’s happening on the track in real time. Cameras and TV screens at the control room can provide the announcer a good account of all action taking place in critical sections of the race track. We know this first hand as we have been emceeing races for the longest time.

Make sure you all get ready for the next Toyota Vios Cup and let’s make it a Waku-Doki time! Godspeed!

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