Last week, I recounted how two events early on in my racing career had opened my eyes to the realities of not making it to the top. The good lessons that we learned from the Alcogas fuel and Kart tires’ brouhaha were event organizers should be fair and apply the rules to everyone. Sad to say, there are still events that don’t follow these simple and important lessons up to now.
When I started my racing career, I had a lot of problems that were mechanical in nature. The “nut” behind the steering wheel also needed a lot of improvement and practice. Hehe. After only 1 year of karting, I already experienced a tremendous rise in my driving skills and the accolades started coming in.
Still, the heartaches were still part of the rise and here’s part 2 of the worst experiences that I had ever had.
If you are an avid fan of my column, you would have known that our first international rally, the 1986 555 Hong Kong Beijing Rally gave us a fantastic result. After traveling more than 3,700 kms for 6 days, we finished 2nd in Group A6 and 8th overall. We equaled the finish of Mandy Eduque the previous year and we were over the moon!
The rally cars were all left in Beijing and the AAA organizers were going to put them on a train back to Hong Kong. When we were going to ship our Mitsubishi Lancer Turbo 1800 Intercooler back home from Hong Kong, we got a call from an AAA rep that our Lancer was missing!
I couldn’t believe it and thought that maybe it was a joke. When it became apparent that it was true, it felt as if I lost a close, family member. There were a lot of Lancers that were destroyed in the rally and I believe that one of the participants had the car stolen from the garage of the AAA.
Even though the insurance paid for the car, it wasn’t enough for all the great memories it gave me and that Lancer was priceless! We learned that we bring our car home right away and never entrust it to anyone especially if it’s a top class performer.
After our 1986 Hong Kong Rally exploit, we also won the National Slalom Title in the same year. A lot of people started to expect a lot from us after these wins, even though we were still quite young in the sport as we started only in 1983.
We were now viewed as a threat even though we never won any rally yet. Finally, our breakthrough came in the late 80’s when we used another Mitsubishi Lancer 2000 Turbo. We inherited the lead when the front runners Jojo Silverio and Eduque broke down in the latter part of the rally.
I remember my navigator back then was Gabby Intengan and he was engaged to my cousin, Budi Bengzon. Recently, she shared that when she picked up Gabby after we arrived in Greenhills, she asked him who won. Gabby sheepishly said it was us. She couldn’t believe it and had to ask him several times if it was true. She was so used to our team always breaking down or crashing, that it sounded so unreal that we could win one!
Our future rally wins were also plagued with a lot of heartaches. One of the more memorable ones was when we were using my brother Binky’s brand new Nissan 240RS. We were seeded quite high in the rally and a lot expected us to win with this powerful, 240hp, Group B rally car. It was the first time that we would be driving such a brute and never got the chance to practice it before the event.
In the first stage going to Angat dam, we came in too fast into a sweeping right, downhill turn. I didn’t get to slow the Nissan down in time and it understeered straight into a ditch. It was an easy turn but I just couldn’t make that Monster car turn! I think we felt more ashamed and stupid for crashing early on the rally.
The funny part of it was when our Team Manager Chuck Cuenca tried to free the car from a tree stump stuck at the back, he accidentally chopped his toe with an axe! The lesson we learned was that we should practice, practice, practice! Also, bring a good First Aid Kit. Hehe.
After a few more rallies with the Nissan, we were comfortable with it and got to make the beast run well. In one of the rallies in Morong, we had an electrical problem in only the 2nd stage and this dropped us to last place. We were so dejected that we even thought of quitting, as there was no point to keep on rallying.
I just told my navigator Jojo Estrella that we had tarmac stages going to Caliraya Lake in Cavinti, Laguna and best we practiced the Nissan in those stages. Since we never had tarmac stages before, especially at night, it was a challenge I couldn’t pass up.
After fitting the Nissan with wide 9” x 14” rims and soft, intermediate tires, we blitzed through the stages like there was no tomorrow. We remembered to have passed at least three to four cars inside each of the three tarmac stages! Even the organizers were so impressed; they decided to give us a special award for winning all of those tarmac stages and climbing to 5th overall in the end.
This taught us that no matter how bad the situation was, we should never give up and that we should always try to learn something new. We didn’t know that time that this lesson was one of the best ever. It was also a revelation of things to come since circuit racing was to be revived in the mid 90’s.
When you get higher up there, you fall harder than the others. We were still climbing up and the bigger heartaches are coming. Stay tuned for next week’s edition and we will build up to the biggest of them all. Godspeed!