Not everyone uses their cars just to get from point A to B. In the same way that not everyone uses a motorcycle to just deliver food or transport packages.
Over the years, car and motorcycle ownership have evolved from the mere utilitarian to the increasingly recreational. And this is no more clearly seen than with the busy schedules at the country’s two race tracks that host motorsports events. And this despite having a raging pandemic threatening to shut down track operations yet again.
Since June last year, both Clark International Speedway and the Batangas Racing Circuit have opened their gates to car and motorcycle enthusiasts who have sorely missed seat time at the track. With all motorsports activities shutting down with the rest of the economy a year ago, there was a drought of racing activities for at least three months.
But as soon as community quarantines were relaxed, the management of both tracks were quick to issue guidelines that not only complied with national government guidelines but also local government restrictions. And slowly but surely, more and more people complied with the health protocols to spend a day at the race track. These days, face masks are just as important as an FIA-certified racing helmet.
Despite the pandemic, track days are now back in business, albeit under a new paradigm of enhanced safety and precaution not just for the driver, but also for his team of mechanics and friends. “We have no objection with track days,” shares Automobile Association Philippines Motorsports Manager, Ivan Isada. “It’s great for getting in some seat time while enjoying driving in a safe facility,” he adds. Even with minimal headcounts allowed per reservation, this is still better than not having access to the safe and secure facilities of a proper circuit.
While driving cars fast is probably as old as the invention of the car itself, this is better done in an environment devoid of wayward pedestrians, obstructions, road works, and unpredictable motorists who suddenly swerve or enter the road. All of these are common sights on our public roads making them dangerous and unsafe to host high speed activities.
A racing circuit on the other hand is designed with safety factored in. Strong walls prevent cars from crossing the track, sand and gravel run-off areas are embedded to scrub off speed from vehicles that lose their brakes, no one is allowed to cross the track while cars are running, there is only one direction for all cars to follow, track marshals are on hand to assist in case of an emergency, and the prerequisite use of certified racing helmets, racing harnesses and other safety gear all contribute to a level of safety that a public road will never offer.
Now some of you might consider taking a car or a motorcycle for a spin on a track day as frivolous especially when the threat of COVID-19 is still as prevalent as it was a year ago. But as we have grown to realize during the lockdowns, putting a complete stop to the exercise of our hobbies and activities has detrimental effects on our mental and social well-being as well. COVID-fatigue is just as real and stressful. And like other sports being pushed by their organizers and respective groups to be approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, or IATF, motorsports deserves to be recognized as a safe activity that should be allowed to make a comeback.
As what we have seen from the two race tracks now in operation, health protocols, when properly observed, are a good enough deterrent to the spread of COVID-19. Nowadays, all those who wish to enter a race track must wear a mask and face shield and keep at least a one meter distance from others. Their body temperatures must be scanned and anyone reading 37.5 degrees Celsius and up are retested after 5 to 10 minutes, or denied entry altogether. Even walk-ins are no longer allowed and bookings and reservations are now the norm. And in the case of the Batangas Racing Circuit, the requirement for medical certificates has been removed. These restrictions, combined with the fact that racing is a non-contact sport where a socially-distanced driver is separated from other members of his team whenever he is on the track, are all logically sound arguments for the resumption of motorsports.
“The AAP is prepared to observe and sanction motorsports activities in MGCQ areas as long as the organizers apply and follow COVID-19 protocols,” explains Isada. And while preliminary meetings between the national auto club and event organizers have recently taken place to update them on government policy toward the sport’s resumption, everything is still up in the air. The uncertainty stems from the government creating new restrictions to cope with the surge of cases while still keeping the economy steered towards recovery. And given the ambivalence, the AAP is still holding back on the issuance of racing licenses this year as well as sanctioning any racing event. At least until organizers submit documents to prove their compliance with AAP and IATF guidelines on the conduct of motorsports and events.
But for car owners and racing teams who wish to test their cars, explore their machines’ performance or just satisfy their need for speed, both Clark and Batangas race tracks are open for business. And while some car clubs and riders groups have taken advantage of this limited access to finally dust off the cobwebs, or learn new skills these past few months, it is still worth to note that complacency to the virus is still the biggest enemy, aside from the virus itself. Relaxing our guard and pulling down our masks are just some of the opportunities COVID-19 is waiting for to once again disrupt our way of life.
Fortunately, due to the nature of the sport, racers and race organizers know the real value of safety. With its inherent risks, racing in itself is already a dangerous sport only mitigated by a host of proven yet still evolving safety measures. And with the amount car and motorcycle owners spend on modifying their rides and acquiring the expensive safety gear, what is an additional few pesos to spend on a face mask, a face shield, and handwash? Racers get it.
A popular saying on the track goes, “The cost of your helmet is how much you value your head.” Adhering to health protocols during this pandemic shows how much you value not just your life, but also the lives of those around you. Funny how an expensive, and some say prohibitive sport, can enlighten one’s perspective in life.
Motoring and motorsports are two of Mikko’s greatest passions. Combining more than twenty years of professional automotive photography and videography experience with years of touring car racing competition, and a deep understanding of the car industry, from both the manufacturers’ and consumers’ points of view, have given him a unique and insightful perspective in the motoring beat.