My greatest racing heartaches

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MIKE POTENCIANO

MIKE POTENCIANO

There is only one winner in racing. That one may be an individual in sprint races or a team of drivers that race in endurance events. The win though is shared with the whole team composed of the support crew, team fans and sponsors, that are sometimes more emotional than the driver.

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People who say racing is an individualistic sport, don’t know what racing is all about. The driver can never win on his own without a properly tuned car. He or she should have practiced long enough to have the proper race skills on the track. They must have trained hard to increase their physical strength and stamina. They even had to have the right frame of mind and confidence in themselves. Remember, the psyche war between rivals and teammates is ever present.

Thus, racing is such a demanding sport that when you win, it is truly exasperating. However, when you lose, you feel so bad especially when the win is just there for the taking.

With more than 30 years of racing experience, I have felt the highest highs and lowest lows in racing. Here are just some that I still remember and hope that the lessons that we learned will guide you in your racing career.

Alcogas rallies
When we started to compete back in 1983, the only permitted fuel back them was a mixture of fossil fuel and alcohol. This was due to the 1979 global fuel crisis that stopped a lot of activities, especially racing. The racers lobbied and got an exemption from the ban by using the government’s alcogas fuel.

This was a mixture of alcohol and leaded gasoline and proved to be very corrosive to the fuel system of the old cars. The contaminants that were cleaned by alcogas would block the fuel filters, made the fuel pumps conk out and required a lot of tuning to make the normal engine properly run on them.

The event was our own Maya Industries Rally of Champions and our team was out in full force. It would be a fitting debut as I completed my parents’ no. 1 rule that I should have a college degree before I could race. We converted our Mitsubishi Lancer 1976 to run on alcogas and gave us so many problems in our first rally.

What we didn’t know was that the other teams would switch to normal gasoline after they took off from the ceremonial flag off in Greenhills. However, we wanted to stick to the rules and proved that we can do it.

Our Lancer started sputtering and misfiring all the way until finally, the fuel pumps packed up in the Quezon province boondocks. Our first rally ended in a DNF – Did Not Finish – and it was a hard pill to swallow since we no one was on alcogas but us. We believe that the organizers should be more diligent in making everyone comply with the rules, no matter what.

Rookie karter of the year
After almost 2 years of Rally DNFs from crashes and car technical problems, my friends told me to concentrate on first honing my driving skills in karting before we go back to rallying. We started karting in 1985 and formed a great team to guide me along the way. Expert drivers and past champions Robbie Luna, Jody Coseteng and Tammy Campos were all drafted in the BLTBCO-MP Turbo team to go for the championship.

Since karting was just coming out of hibernation from the global fuel crisis days of 1979, the organizers had a hard time filling in the grid. We only had 2 classes, the Expert and Novice Divisions, all running on the same Yamaha KT100 direct drive engine. The only track that time was the beautiful and internationally acclaimed JRC Ramrod Kartway, which is now part of the Eastwood complex in C5 Libis, Q.C.

The season started quite good for the team. Our Expert drivers were battling amongst themselves for the top podium positions. In our Novice class, I was having a good battle with the other new drivers and the crowd really liked it. In the end, I fulfilled my dream of winning the final race and broke my bad luck in racing. Our winning streak extended to 6 races and we racked up a formidable points lead.

Sinister plot
The organizers asked me to move to the Expert Class and give the other new drivers a chance to catch up. I saw this as a good chance to improve my driving skills and gladly stepped up. Little did I know that there was something sinister brewing in the Novice Class.

Novices were only allowed to use hard compound, slick tires with a CIK SL marking. There was no restriction on the brand of tires back then and we bought our Bridgestone tires locally then got them from Hong Kong because they were cheaper. The SL tires lasted longer and could be used for 2 races if you were on a budget.

However, another team was able to secure Vega SL Tires from the Italian factory and was suddenly faster than us almost overnight. We knew it was the Vega’s softer compound tires that were causing this sudden turnaround in speed.

In the next 4 races, we started to lose to the team that brought them in. We complained and officially protested to the organizers to please check the tires with a durometer, which was the instrument to check a tire’s specified compound. The organizers said that they don’t have an official durometer so they can’t check the Vega tires. Even though we offered to get them one, they stood firm that they will not do it.

No scrutiny
A simple check would have been to press your nail into the slick tire’s flat surface and see how much your nail goes into the surface. You would need to exert extra effort to get your nail in a hard compound tire while a soft compound would be much easier. When we checked the Vega tires, it had the same resistance as the soft compound tires of the Expert Class. This would be good for at least 1-1.5 seconds per lap easily.

With no policing of tires, the final race was a very tense and frustrating event. The Novice drivers on Vega tires just ran away from us and we couldn’t even put up a good fight. I lost by only 1 point from Nonong Marcos and was the first time I felt deeply hurt for something we can’t control.

It also gave us a valuable lesson—never take things for granted and secure the championship as early as possible before moving on to the next goal. We are now very particular about scrutinizing and how the organizers can police their events to make it fair for everyone participating in the race.

These are just the first 2 achy-breaky moments and there were a lot more. So stay tuned and we will learn vital lessons from these. Godspeed!

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