Rallies are true tests of men and machines. What more if the rally was ran for 5 days, covered 3,800 kilometers and was held in a foreign country that was closed to foreigners just a few years ago? That would definitely qualify as one of the toughest rallies in the world!
And that was the format adopted by the Hong Kong Beijing Rally. It has been 30 years since we joined this captivating rally and it’s about time we start writing about our experiences. I will also be using the plural pronoun we from now on, as we wouldn’t have finished this epic event without the help of everyone in the team. So here goes our very tough rally of them all, the 1986 Hong Kong Beijing Rally.
When the rally started in 1985, it was an instant success and gained celebrity status immediately. With over 60 plus entries from all over the world, the inaugural rally included factory drivers from Audi, Toyota, Opel and Nissan. The world rally champion Hannu Mikkola and Arne Hertz piloted their Audi Quattro to a hard fought win that saw a lot of cars not making it to the finish line.
Lars Erik Torph/Bo Thorzelius in a Nissan 240RS came in 2nd place with Erwin Weber/Gungter Wagner placed 3rd in the Opel Manta 400. Toyota had a bad outing with its 2 Celica Twincam Turbos for Bjorn Waldegard/Hans Thorzelius and Juha Kankkunen/Fred Gallagher, all retiring before reaching Beijing.
Against all odds, our own Filipino Rally champion Mandy Eduque was able to finish in 8th place using his San Miguel Beer sponsored Nissan 240RS. He was navigated by his long time partner, Jun Espino and became the talk of the rally community, both local and international.
There were other Filipinos like Alex Limjoco/Jojo Estrella in the same Nissan 240RS while Col Jun Abadilla/Boy Ochoa were in a Peugeot 205. However, they both had problems and failed to finish the rally. This made the superb finish of Eduque/Espino more commendable. It was one of the best finishes of a Filipino in a foreign country and inspired a lot of drivers, including myself.
Coming from a rejuvenated rallying career that saw us finish our first rally in 1985, we were looking for new challenges that would bring our team to greater heights. For the avid followers of this column, the secret to our change of fortune was all due to karting. Since we started back in 1983, we never went through the first grade of racing and that was the missing link in our armor.
The country was also caught in a whirlwind of political events that would shape our future. The euphoria of a new government, led by the People Power Movement on February, 1986, paved the way for new hope and direction. We were part of peaceful revolution since we came from the University of the Philippines. We would be in EDSA everyday for 5 days and witnessed the miraculous turnover to our new President, Cory Aquino.
After the revolution, Motorsports slowly got back up and we had to help it by organizing events like karting and participated in multiple disciplines. We also had to sponsor drivers and events to help the sport. Our rise in acing coincided with the political upswing, benefiting our team tremendously.
Experience above all
Our MP Turbo Team saw the Hong Kong rally as the best opportunity to be good sports ambassadors and test our mettle against international drivers. The lure of mysterious China and the rally’s high level of acceptance by factory rally teams, meant we would be able to see China as few people had ever seen it and be with our international rally idols up close! This would be a major step, as we never left the Philippines, except for kart races in Hong Kong in 1985.
Even though we lacked international rally experience, we were fortunate to had close relations with Mandy Eduque and Auto Rally Club of the Philippines’ organizer Art Policarpio. With their very valuable information on how to prepare for the rally and what to expect during the event, we had gained information that was priceless. Since there was no Internet that time, firsthand experience was the best source. Heck, there is nothing that replaces experience in life!
The next job was to get the proper team together. First up was who would be the co driver sitting beside me. From all the available co drivers that time, the one most qualified was Jojo Estrella as he just ran in last year’s Hong Kong Rally. Jojo had a lot of local and international rallies under his belt and seemed to be well loved by all the other drivers he rode with.
Thus, Jojo was the natural choice and luckily, he didn’t give us a hard time and accepted the job right away. We even had enough time to do local rallies together and we had good chemistry inside the car which was very important.
The service team managers were next. This was again very important because this grueling rally was different from other rallies. The service team had to follow the whole route to Beijing and that means that the managers will have to be good drivers and mechanics as well. Art Policarpio was a natural choice and luckily, our other co-driver Larry Mangubat was free and available. Some friends also volunteered like Manuel Martelino and Aram Carapiet. They would be the leaders of the 2 vehicles that we were bringing from the Philippines with our MP Turbo mechanics.
The final choice we had to make was the car itself. This was easier because we just got a new Mitsubishi Lancer 1800 Turbo in 1985 from our good friend, Hong Kong rally champion Michael Lieu. This RHD car was a lucky one as it finished the first rally it ever entered. We bumped it every day in the 4-day, 1986 Mabuhay International Rally and the Lancer still kept on going to the finish.
I have always believed that there are some cars that are just unlucky no matter what you do. Most of them were cars that we had reengineered in our early days, thinking we could change the design of the wheel. Hehe. However, some were just abused by the rally drivers we sponsored and broke down or crashed in the process.
The Lancer Turbo was prepared well for the Hong Kong rally and we made sure it will pass international standards scrutiny. We were lucky to have Lieu also to guide us and provide the best parts for the rally. He was truly a big factor in making our team succeed in local rallies.
Next week, we recount on how we got to the Hong Kong Rally and start our first international event. The experience was an affirmation of what Murphy’s Law is all about! You wouldn’t want to miss that and it will be a great read. Godspeed!