You’ve read us racing our Project Elantra. Maybe we’ve given you the itch to try it out too, but you don’t know how to go about it. I have jotted down my thoughts in this regard to B.I. you towards racing. Hope this helps, and feel free to comment away.
What is it like?
I can only speak for myself and my experiences. I have been racing at least once a month, mostly in slalom races, since late 2011. I’ve written previously in this site what a day in the slalom races is sorta like.
What I will add is this. You have to realize that there are many disciplines of motorsport out there, completely legal and organized on closed courses. Illegal street racing as popularized by F&F exists but is not the only motorsport paradigm out there. Not everyone lives his life a quarter-mile at a time. I don’t bet big, win big and score with impressionable women. So don’t look my way when someone stuffs it while illegally drag racing in Macapagal or at the Skyway.
Motor racing, when done in closed courses and organized by reputable entities, is very safe. It is very unlikely that, while racing, you’d lose some appendages, especially in entry-level motorsport. Some organizers award prize money, but mostly you do it for fun, not profit.
In my experience, it is best for the uninitiated to imagine amateur racing as similar to playing golf or going to a country club. You get to meet like-minded people, make long-term friendships, get drenched in the sun, get exercise, and otherwise have a great time.
Piqued? Read on for more after the jump.
Doin’ it yourself
I surmise there are differing reasons for getting into motorsport. I started because I wanted to race and win in a car that was unlikely to be raced in and, consequently, win anything. The most accessible racing just happens to be the discipline I call ‘conesport’ – or parking-lot racing, if you will. The slickest promoter that organizes such races is RACE Motorsports Club with the National Slalom Series.
There are three prerequisites to joining motorsport – any motorsport: the interest to join, the money for relevant expenses, and (optionally) having access to a car to participate in.
Of course you have to be interested. Whether nakikisama ka lang sa tropa, or you really wish to learn how to drive a car better, or for whatever reason you may have, you must have some form of desire to start. Living the dream, and sustaining it, starts from taking the first step.
The harsh reality is this: actively participating in even an entry-level motorsport requires a certain level of financial capability. You have to pay to play. Because of this, motorsport is not as accessible as say, basketball. But basketball needs a court to play in – at least a vestigial hoop, backboard and flat open ground. Don’t forget the ball.
On the extreme opposite side of the scale, there’s polo. Definitely it would be difficult to have access to the social strata that play the game and the purchasing power to buy and keep horses. And you need access to a venue, private or shared, where you can play the game. Owning a car, any car, is easier and cheaper, right? (Do correct me if I’m wrong, Manila Polo Club shareholders.)
Participation accessibility in motorsports lies somewhere between the two defined examples. Well, if you ask me, it ends up closer to polo than hoops, but not by much. Entry fees start at Php 1000 for Slalom. Figure another thousand for direct gasoline consumption and other expenses and you can basically go racing for a day with your own daily driver, at the cost of an expensive hotel dinner.
Technically, bracket drag racing is the most accessible as far as skill level requirement is concerned. Drag racing is basically mashing the throttle and shifting gears for 400m. But that’s not to say it’s easy. Bracket drag requires consistency, something developed with experience. It also requires you to travel far if you are Metro Manila based, as the two drag tracks are located in Clark and Rosario, Batangas, respectively. Factor in the time and fuel consumed to travel and it adds up to the effort and cost of participating. Circuit racing events are also held at these two venues. Not at the same time as drag racing events, of course.
You can race for cheaper in go-kart rental places. For less than five hundred pesos, you can experience for yourself for ten minutes how it’s like to kart. Karting is touted to be the closest experience to driving Formula 1 cars. Places like the Boom na Boom Kart-Trak have regular organized races where you can experience wheel-to-wheel action for a reasonable entry fee without subjecting yourself to serious risk and without buying a go-kart. Karting is the entry series to open-wheel racing, which has Formula 1 at the top rung of the ladder. Note that racing karts for reals are said to be quite expensive, so do plan before you plunge into that avenue.
In summation, it initially doesn’t matter what car you have, or what form of motorsport you should first try. The important thing is to try and see if you like it. Who knows, you might just get hooked. Feel free to pepper the organizers with questions before and while trying it out. Better to look like a boob before the event than to be one during it.
Note: If you are going to try out motorsport with your daily driver, remember that you are racing a car that you have to bring home in one piece. Drive carefully. Keep it slow. Don’t go beyond your limits. Be mindful of the tire wear, especially on the front pair. Bring your own helmet to the races, if you have one. Enjoy.
While racing, you sometimes hear the darnest things. Here’s a quote originally attributable to American football coach Red Sanders but was told to me by Tita Bing-Bang Dulce: “Sure, winning isn’t every thing; it’s the only thing.” (Emphasis added.)
When you’re starting out, you wouldn’t expect to win your very first race unless your last name is Fujiwara and your dad makes tofu for a living. The important thing is to have fun and figure out your driving skill set and the folkways of the motorsport you’ve joined.
Eventually, as you become a regular, you will aim to kick everyone’s ass. That’s a tall order, as the people to beat will be years ahead of you in experience, and of course have better, faster cars. Having a fast car in the outset guarantees not race wins. I’m having a hell of a time topping the times of what Alex Bautista in his lightly-modified Toyota Echo can eke out in Slalom, and Project Elantra is not without horsepower. Paul Santos in his GDB STI also has a hard time beating my times, but he sure is getting close. It’s an STI breathing down my neck, and I am very much afraid.
Forget turbochargers, nitrous oxide, programmable engine management, carbon fiber, and whatnot. Don’t worry if you’re not in a Starlet or a Civic. There’s no power adder, cheaty tweak, and no better time-shaver than driving skill. Driving skill is learnt, not bought. But to get the experience, you have to continuously join competitions for seat time. Over time, that is beaucoup bucks, friend.
Practice, practice, practice. I cannot stress this enough, so let me say it again: practice. If you have access to a venue where you can practice your heart out in safety and seclusion, take full advantage of it. I surely don’t, and thus am stuck maximizing free practices in organized events and playing simulation racing games on my PC. Your car club has a track day, or has organized a driving clinic? Join. Take full advantage of the training opportunities that come your way.
Seek tips and advice from knowledgeable people. It helps to ask your fellow competitors for pointers on how to drive at first, but they might not be all that forthcoming as you progress. See an older, disinterested gentleman around at the racing area? He might be bored enough to lend you an ear.
Listening to advice is one thing, putting it to practice is another. Most times, the things that our happenstance mentors blurt out end up bouncing off our heads. Much in the same way as it is easy enough to hear a Chopin being played on the piano, it takes practice to pound the same tune yourself. It takes a certain level of skill and experience to apply some of the things that will be suggested to you.
So, going back to what I was saying: PRACTICE.
Attire is important in motorsport. Obviously, the suits Formula 1 drivers wear aren’t there just to stitch sponsor’s patches on. But in the grassroots, dress codes are meant more to maintain proper decorum during the races than to prevent any major mishaps to your person.
When you graduate to serious motorsport, you will have to buy a Snell-rated helmet, a fire-retardant racing suit, and other various safety attire. For now, you can start with the following getup:
- Helmet – can be a cheapo tiangge-bought item, ICC stickers optional. Organizer’s usually aren’t strict with helmets, so whatever fits your tastes, budget, and cranium will do.
- Seat belt – wear it. Period.
- Comfortable cotton top – bring two more shirts with you to avoid reeking all over the place.
- Loose jeans or any bottoms, at least 3/4 length – I personally use puruntong 3/4 pants. Not really fashionable but very comfy.
- Sunglasses – protect your retinas with a pair of polarized sunnies. Polarized lenses also allow you to see better under glare from the sun.
- Gloves – to ensure grip while maneuvering around the course. If you’re pasmado, an essential item.
Tweak and Tune
If you are using your daily driver as your weekend racer, I would suggest the following baubles to make your racing experiences more meaningful.
- Another set of wheels and tires just for racing – the extra rolling stock doesn’t have to be anything special or super sticky, this just allows you to not drive to work with worn-out tires. The set can be sacrificial in case you hit a bollard or a bangketa or something.
- Sports seat(s) with adequate side bolsters – so your body doesn’t flub about while you’re tackling a curve
- Automobile Association Philippines (AAP) membership – in case you break your car while racing, you can call AAP to bring both you and your car home, cheaply
In addition, keep your car well maintained. Follow your manufacturer’s maintenance schedules. Avoid shoddy replacement parts when doing PMS or repairs.
Besides being a less capital-intensive move, staying with a stock-ish car forces you to eke out faster times by being a better driver. Do so for at least a full racing season, perhaps three. When you want to go a bit faster, invest in the following: better tires, some suspension tweaks, and weight reduction. Note that I didn’t mention any engine upgrades. A deficit in power over your rivals can be overcome by driving skill. What, haven’t you watched Initial D?
The most important thing
Honestly, just enjoy yourself out there. Racing is supposed to be fun, even though it be financially irresponsible sometimes. Okay, most times. Relax, savor the moment, and drive spiritedly yet carefully.
Remember, when interfacing with your fellow competitors, walang yabangan. You can chat with any of them, and they will be more than welcome to suck you in more into the addiction.
If you were in the cusps of winning but fall just short, don’t take it personally. The timer doesn’t lie. Reputable organizers have stood the test of time for their impartiality in race results. Don’t take it out on them. That only proves that you’re a n00b, and have absolutely no idea what you are doing.
Do let us know what you think. Fire away.