(First of two parts)
Motors sports is sending an SOS and it really needs a lot of help! To understand how we have fallen far behind, lets us trace our recent racing history.
The last time that motor ports celebrated a revival of its golden age was way back in 1996 when we had two race tracks in Subic and Batangas. These great tracks were inaugurated almost at the same time in 1994 and the country never had a proper race track before this time. A lot of car manufacturers started to support motor sports with different racing teams to do battle among each other using production vehicles and race cars coming from other countries.
Mitsubishi, Nissan, Mazda, Toyota, Kia, Hyundai and even Proton had racing teams at the time which filled the grids to the crowd’s delight. It wasn’t only the different brands that wanted to be part of the booming sport but also fuel, lubricants, tires, wheels and other motoring-related businesses all jumped in the bandwagon.
Our MP Turbo team was part of Mitsubishi’s two-team effort with Caltex sponsoring our Lancer GLXi team and Mandy Eduque et al with the Shell-Mitsubishi team. Nissan had the Ramirez family of legend Pocholo, Kookie and George using Sentras. Mazda soon came in with Jojo Silverio and Vincent Floirendo with their special Mazdaspeed version of the 323. We transferred to Hyundai in their brand new Elantras that were brought in by Francisco Motors Corporation. Our team was composed of Carlos and Mike Anton, Mike Francisco, George Apacible and celebrities Monching and Tonton Gutierrez plus a lot more drivers.
International events also came to our shores with the Asian Festival of Speed that brought recent DTM cars like Mercedes Benz, BMW, Opel and Alfa Romeos with the top Asian drivers running them. With the cars becoming too expensive to run, the top saloon cars shifted to Group A cars that were heavily-modified production vehicles and our own Jojo Silverio competed in a BMW 320.
We took the formula/single seater route in 1996 with our own Formula Asia 2000 that went around Indonesia, India, Malaysia China and here in the Philippines. Our efforts were rewarded with the Rookie Championship and fifth place overall. Soon Formula Toyota was established here and it started to get our local drivers their first taste of open wheel racing.
However, the Asian Financial crisis came in 1997 and the whole region had a meltdown! Motor sports was one of the hardest hit and most of the money supporting it just disappeared. The Philippines though proved to be resilient and we were still riding on the crest of the wave.
Toyota was still supporting their Formula Toyota and the Corolla Cup. Hyundai just came in with our team for the Production races and we did a lot of good races against the Mazda and Nissan teams. Other motor races like slaloms, autocross, etc. were all holding on and growing in number of participants. The seeds were already being sown and it was just in time because private effort was what we needed to continue the momentum.
Before the golden age revival of racing, rallying was the only discipline that made the headlines. With racing taking a back seat after a tragic race and the world fuel crisis in 1979, the only alternative was to go rallying with alcohol-mixed fuel and the dirt roads of the provinces. In fact, right after the knee jerk reactions to the fuel crises, there were already moves to bring back rally cars in the early 1980s.
The most notable teams came from the veterans of the sport like Dante Silverio’s Toyota TRD team with Pocholo and Jojo Ramirez. Robert Aventajado, Mandy Eduque, and Alex Limjuco brought in Nissan 240RS Group B cars. Nodalos team was piloted by Coach Vip Isada, Dennis Teano and team owner Paeng Nodalo. We also started our rallying career in 1983 with our BLTBCo-MP Turbo team with our 1976 Mitsubishi Lancer. The locally made Conge Team was also present with Windy Imperial and Isada manhandling them.
Soon, we had Philippine teams going to Malaysia, Hong Kong-Beijing, Australia and many more rallies all around the world. What made it stand out were the results of the teams that gave much honor to our country. Eduque took eighth overall in the 1985 Hong Kong Rally and we followed with the same eighth place the next year and second in Class A2. Aventajado got eighth place also in the Malaysian Rally in the 1980’s while we won a superb Production Group N Championship, ninth overall in the 1990 edition of Malaysia Rally.
With the economy slowly going up, Mitsubishi Ralliart came to the country in preparation for our inclusion to the international arena. The Ralliart team was composed of Eduque and Isada ably backed up by the Hong Kong team with factory Mitsubishi Galants 4WD all prepared to the max. Clifford Certeza and I were doing battle with our own private Mazda team and it was like David and Goliath for two years and could only make a small dent in their dominant effort.
However, what we lost in those long distance rallies, we made up for in rallycrosses which were short races in easily accessible tracks. These events brought the sport closer to the people and were attended by a lot of fans. We won the rallycross championship from 1991-1994 and was our best retaliation!
There are still a lot of racing disciplines like karting that we have not talked about and we will do so in our future columns. But for now, we have showed how motor sports got its golden age in the 1990’s and we will compare its present condition. Sad to say, it is not good! Godspeed to all!