Wednesday, July 21, 2010

M-150 Unleashed Northern Adventure Race Part 1

IN my line of work, I have been fortunate enough to travel in a lot of places. But for the life of me, I have never seen so many places in just one day. And that’s exactly what happened when I was invited to cover a cross-country race late last year.

To say that I got more than what I bargained for is an understatement. I have never experienced anything quite like it.

Still don't believe me? Well, here’s the first part of my account as published in Business Mirror's Personal Fortune magazine early this year.


IT’S officially defined as “a point-to-point race against time, within the limits of the law covering 550 kilometers of North Luzon in a span of one day.” But for most of the participants, last year’s M-150 Energy Drink Unleashed! Northern Adventure Race might as well be the true-to-life equivalent of movies like The Cannonball Run and The Gumball Rally, the latter of which in turn was inspired by Gumball 3000, the annual international road rally that takes place on public roads with a different 3,000 mile route around the world each year.

Although a cross-country race on a much smaller scale, The Northern Adventure Race was still a first of sorts. Veteran race car driver Mike Potenciano, who helped organize the race and was among the participants said “the last time something like this happened here was in the early 1980’s.” Starting in Metro Manila at the Ortigas Home Depot, the race covers a total of 550 kilometers of the North Luzon grid and includes Checkpoints in Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan, Baguio, La Union, Dagupan, Lingayen and finally its finish line in Subic, all within a span of one day.

It’s not as straightforward as it sounds, though. And racers who did not fully understand the rules ultimately paid the price for it.

The rules

The rules of the race were in conjunction with one basic objective: Safety above all and abide by all traffic rules, regulations and ordinances. This means breaking the law and reckless driving are highly discouraged and the organizers will not be responsible for those caught by traffic law enforcers.

Although the racers are allowed to pass through any route they want as long as they pass through all the controls or checkpoints, there are mandatory sections that all of them must pass through. Toll receipts may also be required as proofs of compliance.

Furthermore, to keep all the racers in line and ensure that the basic safety first objective is followed, a time control system with critical penalties was implemented. The starting order is determined by the order of entries who check in at the starting gate. Those who arrive early, leaves early with a one minute head start on the next car allowed to leave.

Each car must arrive at the given checkpoints at a given target time. Check in too early and the racers are slapped a penalty of five minutes added to his total time. Check in too late and a penalty of 10 will be added to their total, not as bad as being too early but can still be costly if the race comes down to the wire.

And yes, wearing of seatbelts are mandatory as non-compliance may also mean an additional one-minute per offense to the racers’ total time.

The racers with the best total time (finish time minus start time plus penalties, if any) wins the race.

The racers

This is where the rules start to loosen up. All road-worthy registered vehicles including all-wheel drives (AWD), four-wheel drives (FWD) and rear-wheel drives (RWD) with the exception of tube chassis are allowed to participate.

The rules require that racers race as a team with a minimum crew of at least a driver and a navigator. Since this was a long distance endurance race, preparation is key. And familiarity with the Northern Luzon certainly won’t hurt.

Team Dorifto with Ramon and Jonathan Arriola brought with them a 20-man strong pit stop crew and actually acquired a brand new Honda Accord just for the race. The heavily favored Team Lighthouse Subaru of race car driver Pia Boren and advertising executive Ianne Borillo were packed with essential supplies.

Another favorite, Team Mazda of Mike Potenciano, his co-host, Lindy Pellicer of radio station WAVE 89.1 and navigator Steve Cheng were test driving a Mazda 6 for this particular, the same with Team MetroMag of Stef Juan, Camille Aguilar and Andre Tani who are also trying out a Toyota Prius.

Other noteworthy cars in the field of 35 teams included the Mitsubishi Triton of Team Fast and The Curious, the Volvo V50 of Team Big Head, the Mercedes Benz of Team Sprocket Benz, the Mitsubishi Pajero of Team Capture, the Nissan Silvia of Team Esguerra and the Honda Civic LXi of Team P-1 Motorsports.

The dark horse

This writer ended up being assigned as the navigator (!) for Team Paullex of 21-year old Paolo Eslao, the young proprietor of Eurocon Trading, an automative and industrial airconditioning parts business that he started when he was only 19 years old. The unheralded kid, who very few have heard of prior to the race entered his own mom’s Ford Lynx 1.6 GSI, the car he drives everyday to school and work. Paolo originally wanted to race alone but was forced (reluctantly, if I may add) to take me as navigator to comply with the rules.

Eslao’s preparation for this race was the most impressive in my book. Driving at go kart race tracks since he was 14, he spent his high school years in the Netherlands and further honed his driving skills in those long, European countryside roads.

If that’s not enough preparation, he studied Automotive Technology which partly explains his knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the other vehicles. His knowledge of cars also helped him modify his own car in accordance to “what is only needed for it to run on bad roads.” And for him, that meant lowering springs in his suspension and replacing parts in the engine (intake, headers, exhaust) for better air flow that in turn translates to more power and reliability.

And of course, since he did not intend to race with a navigator (and I doubt if I could really be a big help in that area since I neither race nor drive), it certainly didn’t hurt that he has a GPS device with him, which by the way, was not against the rules.

Next post: The race!

No comments: