Thursday, February 4, 2010

Off Road Racing, Anyone?

SOMETHING I wrote for GARAGE magazine last year. Slightly revised and updated. Yes, believe it or not, it's actually a lot safer than it looks.

And for a first hand look or experience, you might also want to check out the upcoming 2010 Balayong Festival Offroad Challenge in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan this coming March 5 to 7, 2010. Interested? Then please check out Mike Potenciano’s Facebook page and drop him a line.


WHEN people think about races, they usually think about fast cars running at breakneck speed. That’s not necessarily the case with off-road vehicles particularly those imposing 4 x 4 monster trucks. Or so says veteran race car driver Mike Potenciano who organizes these type of races along with a couple of other similar off-road rallies and veteran jet ski racer turned 4 x 4 off-road racing champion Joey Millionado.

“Off-road racing is only one of several types of off-road races that I organize here under my group, MP Turbo,” says the multi-awarded Potenciano, whose racing experience spans many years of competitive racing in varied disciplines—from karting to rally cars to touring cars to Formula One cars, name it, he has done it. “There are actually several variants of off-road racing including the faster 4 x 4 Speed, Motocross and Moto Enduro, Mountain Bike races and Rally Raid.”

Now 47, Potenciano remains a racing icon and a unifying force in what was once a dormant industry during the martial law years. An industry that was only revived during the late 80’s. When he’s not organizing races, he races himself and when he’s not racing, he organizes them. He also continues to aggressively promote the sport through his television show called SpeedTV that airs on the Viva Prime channel and Turbo Time, a radio show that he co-hosts with DJ Lindy every Monday from 10PM to 12MN at MTV Radio U92.3 FM.

Although he has a strong preference for the faster and yes, more dangerous variations of off-road motoring, he is nonetheless actively involved in promoting the slower but equally exciting 4 x 4 off-road racing.

“The thing about regular 4 x 4 off-road racing is that it’s actually safer than other motor sports,” quips Millionado, also 47, and a longtime friend of Potenciano’s. “You’re only running on first and second gear only or 40 kph an hour at the most. Yes, your vehicle will have its share of tipping overs but the only thing you need to do when it does is to just hold on to the steering wheel and you should be okay. Injuries are very rare in these kinds of races.”

Millionado, who owns Joey’s 4 x 4, a motor shop that specializes in modifying 4 x 4 vehicles, particularly Suzuki Ferozas, for both hobbyists and racers says the key to winning these kinds of races is how light one can modify his own vehicle or “rig.” These rigs are not built for speed to begin with and for off-road racing, they don’t have to be. “An unmodified Suzuki 4 x 4 usually weighs 800 to 1,000 kilos and modified to 600 to 800 kilos should do well in these types of races.”

Aside from Suzukis, the Toyota Land Cruiser (the 40 series variant) is also a popular choice for off-road racing. In terms of modification costs, Millionado says a budget of P500,000 should be enough to get Suzukis to rock and roll while Land Cruisers are more expensive to modify with an ideal budget of between P800,000 to P1.0 million. “From there, it’s non-stop gastos na as every race you participate will require your vehicle to be regularly maintained and even further modified.”

And then there’s the matter of the man-made tracks, which he says are actually more difficult than the ones in the international circuit. “Every track that we race here like the off-road tracks in Tiendesitas and the Fort are not the same unlike in the races held in the rainforests of Malaysia where it’s easier to familiarize with the tracks after racing there a few times since the course doesn’t change. Our races are shorter, usually about 15 minutes, but far more difficult.”

More than his own achievements, Millionado is proud of his teenage daughter, Jam, who is already a rising star in the off-racing circuit. “She already knew how to jet ski when she was just three years old,” he beams. “She started driving at 13 and at 16 ran her first race where she placed second and has been doing well ever since.”

Potenciano says the faster 4 x 4 races require vehicles to shift up to 3rd and 4h gears. Among the many off-road races that he has organized, he is particularly excited about what he dubs as The Ultimate Speedfest Championship which combines 4 x 4’s and motocross. “It was a big hit with the locals in Puerto Prinsesa when we organized it last March,” he muses. “We’re planning to do Rally Raid or Dakar Type Rallies with 4 x 4’s, rally cars and motorcycles.”

As defined in Wikipedia, Rally Raid, also known as cross country rallying is a more ambitious form of long distance off-road racing that takes place over several days.  Each day may require traveling up to 900 kilometers. The length of the event can be 3–15 days. Examples of rally raid races include the Dakar Rally, Central Europe Rally, Spanish Baja and Russian Baja Northern Forest.

The one MP Turbo plans to organize here covers about 300 kilometers and as Potenciano himself describes it, is “extreme and high-speed.” Aside from Puerto Prinsesa, other popular out-of-town destinations for off-road races include Pampanga and Bicol.

Both Potenciano and Millionado are one in saying that off-road racing is now a very popular sport in the country and with a very bright future to boot. “While not everyone can be racers, afficionados of the sport can still be a big part by helping out as marshalls, managers, organizers and mechanics,” Potenciano says. “Do you know that we have the best mechanics in the world here in the Philippines? Unfortunately, they are just being pirated by other countries. Their participation is actually key in the success of the speedfests that we organize.”

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