THE last time we wrote about our 1986 Hong Kong to Beijing Rally, we were able to form a very good team to go to a vast, unchartered country that didn’t want foreigners. That rally was more an adventure for us and didn’t’ know what to expect. Even if we got some information from our veteran members, navigator Jojo Estrella and Team Manager Art Policarpio, we were still novices compared to the others in the rally.
Let’s start our 2nd part of my toughest rally and it all starts from when we were leaving the country.
After getting our Mitsubishi Lancer 1800 Rally car and 2 service vehicles all ready to go, we were confronted with the problems in the pier by brokers that wanted an arm and a leg. Since they saw that we were all ready to spend big bucks to rally aboard, they also wanted a piece of the action. We were not accustomed to the corruption that faced us and it even looked like we were going to miss the boat and the rally, too!
Right away, we took matters on our own and dispensed with the brokers. We found a good Samaritan in the form of the Manila Port Customs police whose name escapes me now. He took pity on us and saw that we were novices at sending cars out of the country and helped us tremendously. What should have taken us at least a week to complete the documentation, he was able to do it in 2 days and with not much cost to us!
That was our first miracle for this trip and we were able to go and with our sponsored transport by COSCO, we were able to get on their ship with hours to spare. Whew! I hope he is able to read this know that I will be forever grateful for his help.
Ahoy Hong Kong
Our crew of 7 mechanics and managers plus us 2 rally drivers made it early to Hong Kong to prepare the cars when they arrived. What we thought would be an easy time because of all the preparation we did back home, just didn’t happen.
We had to contend with endless gathering of documents, mounting tires and wheels form Hong Kong Rally Champion and sponsored driver in Manila, Michael Lieu, and preparing the service points along the route to Beijing for 6 days of rallying while we were in the Hong Kong AAA premises that became our home base for the preliminary work.
My navigator Jojo posted that we spent more or less 6 months of sleepless nights, and I believe it’s true! By the time we were due for scrutineering at the Ocean Terminal, we just had enough energy to bring the Lancer there and see if it would pass the stewards.
As soon as we got to the parking lot on top of the Ocean Terminal, our tired bodies all got perked up. We were lined up along the top teams of Audi, Toyota, Nissan and the big Japanese Rally teams. There were more than 50 entries and had various countries represented. Even the lead 00 car was a Porsche Carrera and was really top class!
The top combatants were 1984 World Rally Stig Blomquist/Bruno Berglund and Andy Dawson the sponsors’ Audi 555 Quattros. Battling them were the 1979 Rally Champion Bjorn Waldegaard/ Fred Gallagher and Lars-Erik Torphe who took 2nd in the 1985 HKG rally. Our own Mandy Eduque/Jun Espino tandem was back in their Nissan 240RS and they took a superb 8th place finish the year before.
The rest of the field was made of a lot of strong rally drivers from Japan, China, Malaysia and Australia. We were not a threat to anyone since we barely had any rallies that we finished except the National Slalom title in 1986 and the Karting race wins we got back home. So, we were very happy to have been given a car no. 20 and was above a lot of the other novices here.
Luckily, there was not much wrong with our Lancer and after we had put on the stickers, we were able to get the car back to parc ferme. We thought we could enjoy the view but no, our service team was still far from sorted out. I really pitied but admired my team for really giving their best to that rally. Aside from Policarpio, they are co-team managers Larry Mangubat and Manuel Martelino, mechanics fondly called by their nicknames, Nic, Botong, Damage and friend Aram Carapiet. Mandy’s team was also our back up service and this became important later on.
Our publicist and best friend Reggie Hernandez was based here as we could only fit so much people in the 2 service vehicles and its arsenal of spares and tires. We could only look in awe how many service vehicles the factory teams were bringing. Toyota looked like they had 2 teams at every end of a special stage while we had to contend with 1 for every 2 stages.
The start was full of pomp and pageantry that you would expect from an international rally. The organizers put on a good show and there were a lot that attended the start ceremonies. The hard thing about this was we could not enjoy the festivities much because of we were just overwhelmed by it all! Seeing my rally idols Stig and Bjorn in one event was just too much.
Our full line up of family and friends were all there, including Filipino rally/race legend Dante Silverio, who all wished us good luck. Our service team was already on their way to the border of Hong Kong and China and we were hoping that nothing would happen to us.
It felt almost surreal that we would be taking off in the same stage as our idols and we had to make ourselves respectable. With the odds slowly coming out against us, we decided to take it easy for the first few days of the rally and just enjoy the countryside. We were not going for the win but definitely go for a finish. This was the plan and we got some rude awakening during the rally that made us stick to it.
After 2-minute intervals, all the rally cars were flagged off in front and we were next. The only thing I remember is that I had a big smile on my face and said a silent prayer before we started. This was our first international rally and may God bless our adventure.
Next week, we will have the exciting stories of the rally itself and the side stories are actually more memorable. Godspeed and stay tuned for part 3!