Race Report: Philippine GT Weekend – July 6-7, 2013

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Smoke was clouding my vision. While tackling the Clark International Speedway (CIS) at 140kph, this was not good.

Something has gone horribly wrong with Project Elantra’s powerplant. The smoke was not reminiscent of spent hydrocarbons from the usual exhaust leak the car has been experiencing. The gray, acrid fog was pouring out from all crevices of the engine bay, most notably the hole in the firewall where the aircon lines used to plumb through to the cockpit.  Is the car on fire?

The oil temperature gauge’s needle was pegging the scale, with water temps not far behind. The power was dropping, the exhaust was becoming unbearably loud, and yet, I forged on, hoping the car had a lap still left in her.

The clutch was sliding, temporarily giving me the sensation of a rubber-band CVT gearbox. A clutch problem at a time like this? And the smoke was suffocating, thankfully without smelling of almonds. Otherwise it would be a rolling Auschwitz right here.

Was it my stubbornness? The day before, I was working on getting the trailer working and loading the race car on it for the very first time. The week prior, I spent wrestling with the starter, getting it out and back again, my face literally resting on the valve cover. And before that, I was upping the spring rates for better handling. And all the effort for naught.

This is a dream, ain’t it? The smoke is like the haze you see during movie flashbacks. But this isn’t way back when, it’s right now. Come on, just the final, pedal-to-the-floor corner left, then the main straight. I can set a time.

There is no response from the accelerator. The car is coasting. Temps have gone through the roof. Smoke is increasing. The start-finish straight beckons.  Shift to neutral. The engine stalls. Damn it! Clutch kicking it to revive the motor, but fails. Passed the start line. Timer stops. Now, how do I get back to the paddock?

The car and I ended up at the drag return road at the end of the main straight. The car fumed for quite a few minutes while I watched the Philippine Mini race at the nearest marshal stand. Despite a push from the ambulance team parked nearby, the car still wouldn’t start, and it ended up being unceremoniously towed by the Automobile Association Philippines (AAP) truck twice, the first back to the paddock and the second all the wee way to the garage in Las Pinas City.

After getting back to the paddock myself, I saw my time, and was stunned that I wasn’t dead last. Not bad for someone driving une voiture noire est en feu!

Fourth from last. Realistically should be higher, but what do you expect from a broken car?

The Track

Having had the opportunity to race at the three race tracks that were operational during the past decade, I would have to say that CIS is the safest track out there. Subic International Raceway (SIR) was probably like racing in Monaco – just without the glamour, the wealth, the prestige, the women, or a short, gray-haired used car salesman running the show. Batangas Racing Circuit (BRC) has fearsome turns like Brians and some interesting elevation changes as the track meanders about.

A chat with SJ Park, Formula Winds racer and Korean car guy, not to mention being Korean himself, revealed that I shouldn’t be too worried racing in CIS, even if my circuit racing experience was far too short for me to be confident. Having now driven at the track, it would be hard to find an area to screw up and smash the bodywork due to the generous amount of run-off in even the most leery of sections.

The facilities in CIS were still under construction. We were briefed for the bracket circuit race in an unfinished room on the second floor. The marshals’ voices were echoing like mad, thus it was no surprise that I may have misheard whatever they were saying. The reprimand I got later was called for, however. There are comfort rooms available, but I was not able to use any. Dehydration will do that for ‘ya.

Staying in Clark

For a two day event, I was recommended to stay overnight in the environs of Clark. A quick search on the Internet revealed Budget Hotel Angeles as accommodation that fits the, ahem, budget. Which is to say, very cheap. Cheaper than the toll and gas bill to and from Clark.

Located in Angeles City’s Korean Town district, Budget Hotel Angeles is quite near one of the entrances to Clark Field, and thus proximate to CIS. Many eating places abound the main road a walking distance, and I had a decent dinner at the nearby Japanese restaurant. There are lots more to see and experience in Angeles, with a nightlife that I surmise that would rival many a Manila establishment. An early sleep was what I had instead.

We stayed the night in a no-frills room. No TV, A/C, room service, or breakfast. It didn’t matter, safe sleep was what we had. The bathrooms are massive, the environs quiet, the decor reflects a unique styling exercise by the proprietors. If another opportunity arises like this, I’d book again in Budget Hotel Angeles. Look for Antoine, the friendly innkeeper.

The Races and Racers

This was the first time in quite a long while that I was able to watch a formal racing event in a circuit course. The last time I done so, MP Turbo Elantras were racing in Red Horse livery. That should date it for you.

The Bracket Circuit Racing event we joined was organized to support the top-tier touring car class, Philippine GT. Other support races in schedule were the VW KaFER Cup and the Philippine Mini Racers Cup, which features air-cooled Volks and mini Minis, respectively.

Besides the bracket racing, Philippine Mini had the most participation, and it is cool to see these fun little cars slugging it out and cornering at the ragged edge. This despite the fact that while watching, I was desolate and still smelling the motor oil fumes from the Elantra parked at the wayside. The Philippine GT feature race was interesting in the sense that many cars broke down to the point that only three were left racing.

Looking at various cars’ footwear, the majority of the racers out there that didn’t have to shoe Yokohamas were running either Federal RSR or Achilles 123 gumballs. Mostly Achilles, as it is the cheapest sticky tire available in the market. (Federal and Achilles tires are available at our Online Store, hihi.)

Some of the racing fraternity that frequent slalom races were present, like Pathrick Bautista and his son Polo, and Dax Santiano who was there supporting the DKC racing team. We were very much grateful to the pit crew of Jody Coseteng, who helped us unload our crappy car that didn’t start off our trailer. Gentlemen racers are still out there.

I wasn’t able to watch the bracket racing as we were more interested having AAP load the Elantra on their flatbed. (Our trailer does not have any sort of winch to pull the car onto it.) We hope to experience it first hand, as this novel race will be repeated this August 11, still in Clark.

Aftermath

As of this writing, Project Elantra is still without a working powerplant. After the overheating and oil smoking incident, not one cylinder has any compression left, and so a general overhaul has to be done. Who knows what else has happened. We will be taking our time piecing the motor back, not because of anything else but well, we’ll be needing to raise some cash fixing it.

We hope to go back to the next Philippine GT weekend to again join the bracket racing. We’ll try to destroy the engine of our “B-car” this time.

Check out our gallery of the event.

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