STAR POWER

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A COUPLE of them have had donned racing gloves, previously dabbling in genuine wheel-to-wheel track action. The rest are utter newbies. But for the five TV and movie personalities taking part in the Toyota Vios Cup’s promotional race event, the dedication, hard work and competitiveness they have been lavishing on motor sports these past couple of months are just about equal.

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The five—Aljur Abrenica, Phoemela Baranda, Fabio Ide, Rhian Ramos and Jinno Rufino—are participating in the two-race promotional gig with seven other people representing various media outfits (including Fast Times). Regardless of skill level or motor sport experience (if any), all had to undergo race-driving training from instructors headed by JP Tuason, with the regimen usually involving five- to six-hour practice sessions at the Clark International Speedway in Pampanga—where the races are to be held. All the drivers also had to complete a minimum of five practice sessions, and the fact that the celebrities opted for more than that—despite hyperkinetic workloads—only highlights their enthusiasm toward the event.

Apparently, motor racing is just as keen on them.

Abrenica, seemingly one of the busiest among the lot, had seen his lap times around Clark’s short track drop after managing to squeeze in a few last-moment practices. Though still tailing, the pace at which he has improved may see him pull a surprise at the races.

Ramos is presently showing as much promise. Laden with taping schedules and other engagements, still she had diligently turned up at the track to learn apex-clipping, heel-and-toeing and most of the rudimentary skills necessary in racing. When she first arrived at the track, Ramos was logging lap times that hovered over the two-minute mark. During her last practice sessions, she had slashed around 40 seconds off them. To think that she used to drive automatic-gearbox cars exclusively and learned operating a stick shift only during training.

Ide has seen his lap times plummet as well. This, no doubt, is partly a result of him having put in a generous amount of seat time in the race car, and partly due to his eagerness to learn.

For their part, Rufino and Baranda are no strangers to wheel-to-wheel racing. The pair have previously competed—along with a couple of the media guys racing in the Vios Cup—in similar one-make race series. But such events had been held several years back, and so both should be credited for having quickly recovered skills and reflexes that go blunt over periods of race-hibernation.

Rufino had steadily chipped seconds off from his already impressive lap times logged during his first few practice sessions. As a result, he is presently a top-runner among the entire grid and has, in fact, emerged as the second-quickest celebrity during the Vios Cup’s qualifying sessions held on October 11. Less than two seconds separated the grid’s first six starters, and Rufino sits in fifth spot.

Baranda, meanwhile, has managed to post her best lap times exactly when it mattered—during her qualifying session. Knocking around two seconds off her previous best times, she put in a stellar drive before light rains dampened the racetrack barely five laps after her qualifying had begun. The outcome? Baranda snatched pole from the pre-qualifying favorites, stunning the grid with her impressive performance.

Race postponed
The weather during the qualifying sessions (there were two) turned from bad to worse, with the second group having to put in their lap times on a soaking track. Typhoon Santi then decided to further hammer Bulacan, Pampanga and other Luzon provinces the night before the races. The Vios Cup’s promotional gig, therefore, had to be called off as Clark Field lay in disarray, and racing conditions deemed unsafe.

As of press time, no race-day date has yet been announced. But, whenever that may be, one thing is certain: The races will run on star power.

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