Racing celebrities join STV's Auto Rally

MANILA, Philippines - The "on-time-all-the-time" rally, also known as the Sampaguita Rally, can now join the league of Amazing-Race competitions that stokes mental and physical skills for extreme versions of fun. Making a comeback in the motorsports scene three years ago, the Sampaguita Rally was re-introduced by Ray Butch Gamboa of Sunshine Television as the Auto Rally Corporate Challenge in Subic.

Last Saturday (March 5), 57 current model cars from 16 auto makers and distributors in the Philippines lined up at the Subic Bay International Airport for the Caltex 2011 STV Auto Rally Corporate Challenge. With the cars were 167 participants who made up the driver-route navigator-time navigator teams wearing the colors and logos of the car brands.

Georges Ramirez, following the footsteps of his father, racing legend Pocholo Ramirez, was the Grand Marshal. He conducted the rally in a most efficient way that we were all back in time for lunch and left Subic late in the afternoon. The five stages that he had designed with his team, Miko David and Patrick Chua, were quite challenging because they seemed so easy - if the team could read the route book and calculate the time and distance properly.

Nostalgia hovered above the crowd who stood under the sun waiting for final briefing and the traditional pledge of making an honest win. There were celebrity rally drivers of many years past - the famous Mandy Eduque and his navigator Jun Espino who were champions and Drivers-of-the-year many times for their feats in the Mabuhay Rallys. In Subic last Saturday, the Eduque and Espino tandem were part of the Lexus Rally Team, driving the Lexus IS300 (hybrid).

With the Toyota Team was Mike Potenciano, the boy wonder who raced against the formidable team of Eduque and Espino in the 1991 Mabuhay Rally. I covered that rally from start to finish, starting as the day ended and ending just before dawn. I got a real rally experience because I rode in the car of the Grand Marshal, Blue Reyna. He would drive each rally stage from the opposite direction - from the finish line to the starting line - just to make sure of the integrity of the route layout.

I did not get the chance to say hello to Mandy, only to shake the hand of his navigator, Jun Espino. Or rather, I was acting like it was 20 years ago when Mandy was treated like royalty at the rally area - he was given space to just look like the champion. But I could not help going up to Mike to reminisce on the glorious rally days of the past. Mike was his usual self, the boyish and friendly smile ready to welcome you into his space. He was also like that at the Mabuhay Rally - amiable even if he had just come from under his Mazda, to inspect something that didn't feel right, and it is 12 midnight in some barrio in Laguna!

Many rally celebrities were there to validate the serious air of the Corporate Rally. Among them the marshals and navigators from the Honda Media Challenge which started in the late 90s. I bumped into my old friend and favorite navigator Raul Asuncion at one of the Time Checkpoints. Unnerved by my squeal of delight to see the navigator who had given my most honorable title of "Best time for the day" - Raul first rang the bell to signal his check-in, then turned to greet me! What a pro!

Also there were friends we had made while learning about the motorsports discipline known as Dirt Trials - Dennis Santos, Art Guevarra, Mike Reyes and Steve Acayan. How can we forget Coach Vip Isada, the man who headed the group who trained us on rally driving and headed the Honda Media Challenge marshals? But at the Corporate Rally, Vip sat at the sidelines, waiting for his son, Ivan, to finish the race.

Many members of media who had cruised into motorsports as rally and circuit drivers were also in Subic last Saturday. There are too many of them, so I shall not even start to mention one because missing a name may cause them to suspect that I am losing my memory.

I was getting sentimental, but how can I help that if Ron de los Reyes was with me in the car as route navigator? (Paulo Subido was the driver and I was the time navigator.) Ron and I had participated in a professional rally in Subic in 1999. I was Ron's navigator and we were driving an Isuzu Hilander. That Saturday, when the route book took us to the IDESS trails, the memories poured in - those were the same stages where Ron had trusted my "Very long sweeping right" or "caution, R-3" calls!

In that 2011 Alterra Urban Cruiser, Paulo, Ron and I were a perfect team. Paulo was patient; Ron was precise; and I was cracking my math skills trying the formula for time navigation. Is it speed-equals-distance-over-time-times-60? Or is x-equals-speed-over-distance-over-60? I wanted to call Anjo Perez who I had navigated for in a Manila to Mindanao Isuzu Challenge; he had taught me the formula and I had forgotten! Fortunately, I figured the formula after stage one - and so, we had fun!

Welcome to the Sampaguita of STV Auto Rally!

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