After 10 years of winning the national championship in rallying back in 2003, getting back into a rallycar and doing a proper rally felt surreal. Rallying on a sad note had become nearly forgotten for the next years in local motorsports history after winning the championship. As a teenager back in 2003, I could only patiently wait again for an opportunity to compete in rallies. For me, the dream was to be a successful rally driver locally and move on to the next logical step of rallying internationally.
“I had to prepare myself mentally and physically for Malaysia’s tough conditions.”
The confirmation of that opportunity arrived in less than a week of competition late in 2013. Right from that time on, it was crunch time. I had to prepare myself mentally and physically for Malaysia’s tough conditions. Aside from preparing myself, looking for finances and support had to be done in less than a month. It was difficult yet here was an opportunity I was not willing to pass.
I was invited to compete in the International Rally of Negeri Sembilan. It was the 4th round of the Malaysian National Rally Championship. Over there were very good local Malaysian rally drivers and experienced FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) contenders from China and New Zealand who were also in the field of competitors. I found this opportunity as a very good way to measure up to regional standards of rallying. Having to run here would suit us up to learn more about rallying internationally.
I was set to drive in a Proton Satria Neo 1600. It was in fact a car that competed in the 2011 APRC. It was the car of Gunaseelan Rajoo, a champion rally driver from Malaysia who lent his personal rally car. Unfortunately before the rally, I did not have an opportunity to properly test it making circumstances again difficult. The car felt familiar though as the car settings were close to the rallycars I used to drive, and I could feel that the car was built like a tank. For me, the aim of driving a sponsored car was to be sure it comes back in one piece.
When I got to Malaysia, I looked and fitted myself into the rallycar on the first day. The following day we talked to the team, settled our final plans for the rally and set on to go to Negeri Sembilan. On the third day we did recce (survey of the rally route) and in the same evening it was the official flag-off.
As much as I’d like to go directly talk about the rally, much of the analysis of the rally terrain came during the recce. The terrain was very muddy and inside the famous palm plantations of Negeri Sembilan. It was also very confusing as everything looked alike which made us difficult to get our bearings right. I was told to watch out for many dangers such as hidden culverts, hidden tree stomps and huge ditches. All this we confirmed during recce, in fact we even became a victim of getting stuck in the Malaysia’s notorious wet clay after sliding off the road.
We did however, finish the recce but I wasn’t completely satisfied with the pace notes we made after recce, nor with my memory of how the track was going to look like by the time we start the rally. So on the night before the rally, I tried recalling the minimal testing with the car, the terrain I had to run, the pace notes to be called, and the emotions I had to control to coordinate the likely outcome of how I will drive the nest day. Like I said, there wasn’t really any time to sit down, relax, or even pinch myself to remind me that this was not a cloudy dream anymore.
“The first stage was very dramatic with so many things happening at the same time.”
Nevertheless, the rally had started the next day and we had to do with all the information we had. The first stage went on the way, and I was starting 17th on the road. Problems right from stage 1 were already arising. Our intercom radio inside the car wasn’t working, and that meant I wasn’t able to hear my navigator. Most of the first stage had to be driven with my memory which is quite difficult when you have more than a hundred things to remember in 15 kilometers at full rally speeds. I also knew that I wasn’t completely in tune with the car as I could feel the rear of the car bouncing a bit too much and eventually I also hit the front of the car a bit too hard against a ditch. The first stage was very dramatic with so many things happening at the same time. While everything could go wrong on the first stage, I finally decided to back off a bit as my intuition was that things were getting too dangerous. We finished a measly 21st on the first stage. Definitely not the fairy tale story I was expecting.
As the 2nd stage came we fixed the intercom a bit, and I now knew exactly how the car would react. I placed better and from there on started to be comfortable and see where I could place myself into the rally. During the third stage I had to watch out as this was where we got stuck in the mud during recce and it was the roughest of stages in the whole rally. By the 4th stage, the shortest at 7kms, Malaysia’s humidity was finally getting a toll on us. We were becoming dehydrated inside the already hot racing suit and rally car, while the noon time heat wasn’t helping at all. We got to finish that stage satisfied with our progress at 14th in stage 4, and 15th over-all.
By the time we got to the service park, I was already very dehydrated and was already getting chills. Luckily, I was able to recover over the 40 minute service break we had. The car suspension though had a bit of a problem which eventually was fixed and fastened again properly. With the first 4 stages done, I now knew what we had to do to survive the rally. It eventually became a rally to survive rather than just focusing on our speed and the results. Stages 5 to 8 would be a repeat of 1 to 4 and we eventually improved in pace throughout the rally. By the end of the day, we maintained 15th overall out of 25.
The 2nd day was exciting again as finally I had got into my senses and could finally appreciate more of what I was doing. Our goal was to bring the car back safely and again bring up the pace. We went through a trouble free day and really enjoyed the final day. My plan was to push on stages 9 and 11 since it was a repeat of stage 2. While stages 10 and 12 were to be taken with more caution as this was a repeat of stage 3. I reminded myself that I had to exercise caution so that I could have the suspension last until the end of the rally. Eventually I did push a bit more on the final stage. And it was a good thing because the next car behind us only finished around 7 seconds behind. In the end, we didn’t get our dream result of getting inside the top 10, a record I wanted to do. But we managed 12th place on our first try and in such difficult conditions.
After doing this rally, it has opened many situations of actually competing in more rallies around the region. But better yet, maybe this could hopefully get others into enjoying this car rallying as a sport again sometime soon. I’m not just keen on rallying for myself. Hopefully with this campaign, we can start bringing rallying back to the Philippines!