In most racing news written by the uninitiated, we only get to see the list of winners, the total time that they finished the race (as if that mattered), and a rundown of the winners’ and the events’ sponsors. If we are lucky, the writer would put in a quote or two that normally praises the car, the team and the sponsor.
Covering a car race, and motorsports in general, is more than just what the press releases so insufficiently portray. Like any sport, there is a dream to greatness, a journey fraught with highs and lows, and a culmination in either victory or defeat. At every stage, there are emotions that would define the athlete’s next move and determine his outcome.
In the recently-concluded 2021 Petron Kalayaan Cup 12-Hour Endurance Race at the Clark International Speedway, the proclaimed winner, Team Mazda Philippines and its sponsors, Motul and Autoplus, GT Radial tires, and ATOY Customs, were able to secure the overall titles in both the 4-hour Kagitingan Cup, which was the first third of the race, and the full 12-hour event besting 16 other entries. In addition to this, the team also took Class 1 and Open A category wins for both race durations.
The team ran a Mazda MX-5 Miata Spec Series car which is basically a stock MX-5 road car equipped with a roll cage and sport suspension components pre-installed by Mazda Philippines. The Miata Spec Series would have run last year had COVID-19 not happened. And it took another year of hibernation before it could finally prove its worth, and in a gruelling 12-hour, non-stop race at that.
The MX5 was really our choice of vehicle
The four drivers that raced the car were former Vios Cup Champion and now racing coach Allan Uy; Ferrari Motostrada pioneer Marc Soong; aspiring race car driver Aaron Guevara; and famed lady race car driver Gaby dela Merced.
They also had a team of race mechanics led by Marvin Mayo who oversaw the condition of the car along with a couple of Bermaz Auto Philippines technicians. Even the marketing team of Mazda Philippines and its CEO, Steven Tan, were there to support the team’s efforts.
From the number of people at the track with this team, and those back in Manila who prepared the paperwork, the logistics, and the parts needed for the race, you can see how much physical and even emotional investment was put in for this weekend. Each team member, driver or even sponsor had their own story. There is probably enough material to make an extensive documentary about it as well. But how did it all begin?
“It was Gaby dela Merced’s idea,” discloses Marc. “And I gave Steven Tan a call and he liked the idea.” The support from Mazda Philippines and its president was full and unequivocal. If there was one event that would prove the reliability, performance and real world fuel efficiency of the Miata Spec Series car, this was it. “With all these on hand, the MX-5 allowed our drivers to confidently race and keep a competitive pace all throughout the 12-hours,” assesses Steven.
Pull away, conserve fuel, and finish well
This was the basic strategy that team manager and serial circuit racing and karting champion, Allan Uy, designed for the team. “I already knew we had a chance of winning to begin with,” Allan confidently recalls. With the Miata Spec Series car, he was confident that the team would finish well given the previous race category wins the MX-5 has had in earlier endurance races.
Aside from dialing in the car himself prior to the weekend, Allan also took time to talk to the drivers and prepare them mentally for the long race. “I told them not to drive too much on the limit, but only at about 90%,” shares Allan. He adds, “I reminded them not to overheat the brakes and tires and showed them the ideal RPM to shift gears at.”
From his instructions it is clear that endurance races are won on longevity. Which in turn is dictated upon by the car’s reliability and the driver’s sympathy to his equipment. Allan started the first two hours of the race and kept in touch with the leading car. “One of the big highlights was Allan’s terrific start,” shares Gaby. “That gave us our momentum. Everything else was steady for us from then on,” she adds.
Pressure was what every driver on the grid had at the back of their minds. Aside from driving consistently and at a fast enough pace to prevent being overtaken, they were also under pressure all throughout their time behind the wheel to avoid getting caught in racing incidents and to keep the car at its best form for the next driver to take over.
“During my stint, I was making sure that I would bring back the car for the next driver without any issues so we can finish the race,” reveals Aaron Guevara who at 27 years of age, is the youngest member of the team. He is also the least experienced, having started racing only a year ago. Given there were multiple driver changes, the team completed six, Aaron also reminded other drivers as well to keep it clean on the track and to bring back the car in one piece.
And as endurance races go, when faster cars catch up with slower ones, there’s no shortage of dicey incidents that could have changed the outcome of the race. “Being on the track with cars from different classes is always interesting! There were many good moments,” says Marc.
Perhaps the most interesting moment for the team was when the lead car they were chasing pitted in with mechanical issues just around the 70th lap. “We realized that there was a chance to win once the lead car retired,” adds Aaron. “During that moment we were only focused on our race and our car. There was still a lot of time left when the lead car retired.”
Allan meanwhile, was not surprised at the fate that befell the team’s main rival. “We were leading by 2 laps by the first hour of the race,” he points out. And it was this confidence that was shared among all the drivers and the rest of the team as their car, and its proven reliability, was once again brought to the spotlight for the remainder of the race.
“I think one of the most important things that you don’t really get to think about is the reliability of the car, ‘’ observes Gaby. ”In most of the endurance races I’ve participated in, I always had this constant fear of the car breaking down. I would always silently pray for nothing to go wrong. With the MX-5, I felt assured that it would last plus having reliable teammates made the whole paddock pretty much feel at ease.”
As the other drivers took their turns, the pit crew mechanics would also spring into action as they refuelled the car for the succeeding stints. “The hardest part of servicing the MX-5 during the race for us mechanics was refuelling,” discloses chief mechanic Marvin Mayo. “One drop of fuel and it’s an automatic drive through penalty and P3,000 fine,” he explains. So you can understand how careful and steady the mechanics’ hands must have been during this process. And the less time the car spent being refuelled, the better the chances of getting a good position and avoiding the penalties.
Imagine how stressed the team was, however, to find out that the fuel warning lamp lit up in the last 20 minutes of the race. Despite having a 14-lap advantage at this point, it would all go for nought if the car suddenly stopped because of fuel starvation. Gaby was racing at this point to the finish.
“It was quite frightening to see how low the fuel was,” opens up Gaby. “Part of me felt it could make it, the other part didn’t want to risk not finishing. “ She adds, “It was a sudden drop with 10 minutes to go. I was staying in neutral on descending parts of the track. It was nerve wracking!”
“It was quite eventful that all of us were on the edge of our seats,” reveals Marc about the situation as well. “It was the scariest moment of the race when we found out we were very low on fuel and had no time to make a pit stop and refuel to finish the race,” adds Aaron.
But with the sound advice of Allan, who told Gaby over the radio to slow down to a 20 kilometer per hour crawl at one point to save fuel, the car was able to complete the final lap after the 12- hour mark and secure the race win with 9 laps of a lead to spare. “Those were the longest 2 laps of Gaby’s life, for sure,” Allan fondly recollects.
And while the team did complete 274 laps, matching the 12-hour Endurance lap record set by the team of Antonio Brias, who interestingly was driving a race-spec Mazda MX-5 Global Cup car, there is a sense of optimism that next time around, the team will be able to surpass the number.
In the end, it is with deep retrospect that the event even happened at all. With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, motorsports has suffered long enough due to inactivity. But with the passion and professionalism shown by all the teams during this event, it is hopeful that racing, in all its forms, will make a gradual, and eventual, return.
Marc puts the whole weekend into perspective succinctly, “Just to be able to race again is an amazing thing on its own!!! The whole thing was a highlight where we felt like the good old days, even for just 12 hours.”
And that is how races are covered.
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.