From wall to the podium (2)

In short, autocross racing is a totally different kind of animal compared to the ones I was actually used to. Here, you have to be eons quicker in turning the steering wheel. Otherwise, just to reiterate, a split-second mistake could already cost you either a DNF or a cone. That’s why precision — here, like what I’ve said — is placed at the highest echelon. My number one kryptonite when I was actively racing back in the day. Since — originally — my background was martial arts, I was aggressive and physical in a kart, attributes I’m proud worked to my advantage then, especially when dueling out against other racers at a tight corner of the track.

This — however — did not work in autocross.

Usually, in sports, I use my rage and physicality — my vim and vigor — to my advantage. This normally works when you’re competing with other players or racers on the playing field. However, if you’re flying solo, like in autocross, all you have is yourself. Therefore, you have to fight against your own demons in your head. It’s you against — you. No one else. And for the past couple of seasons of Toyota’s autocross challenge, I’ve always lost to this opponent.

AUTHOR, together with a fellow colleague in the media, feels the car before his practice run. | PHOTOGRAPHS BY RONALD DE LOS REYES for the daily tribune

I have to admit, it was a bitter pill to swallow. I lost to this man standing right in front of me in the mirror. Hence, a number of racers in my category, my fellow colleagues, have already come and gone.

Some might even have gone up the podium these past seasons. But — admittedly — this poor soul was always left there standing by the wayside in shame, looking up to them on their pedestal every time awarding came, running back-and-forth in my mind what could have been.

Finally, in my third season, other than being the only racer there in my category who has been present and actively racing since day one at the SM Mall of Asia parking grounds, I was determined to make things happen this season come hell or high water.

It was a no-brainer that the first race of this season last July did not work out for me as I came unprepared then, especially with all the goings-on and drama happening in my life the past several months.

However, in race 2, which was a month from that time, I wouldn’t allow any distractions to come my way. Yes, I had the skill set to make it to the podium, but first things first, I had to face the fact that I was competing against myself. And no one else. Plus, I badly had to tweak some of the things I first learned in racing. It was tough, I kid you not. But being a tougher cookie, I accepted the challenge — in fact, I even welcomed it.

And so, for the next several weeks from that time back in July, I worked my ass off, balancing work, family life — or shall we say husband and daddy duties, and practices, both mentally and physically. I was laser-focused, re-learning the fundamentals and the science that a race car, whether it be in karting, circuit, or autocross, is inertia. It’s basically Physics. In short, we use momentum for us to go faster.

TOYOTA Vios tackles a slalom obstacle during practice.

From brick to glimmer
Now, come race weekend, I was there for the first day of practice, even waking up early the next day for another round before the actual race in the afternoon. Dark clouds hovered over Clark International Speedway in Pampanga early that day, making the track wet. During practice, marshals even warned us about not driving too fast, especially on the wet portions of the track. However, I don’t know what happened during my run, but I believe I was too eager to do faster times than what I did the day before that I went too fast in one turn on the track’s slippery surface. Here, no matter how hard I turned to the right, the car wouldn’t just nudge. In turn, I slightly — unintentionally — brushed the left side of the bumper of the front wheel unto the wall in the makeshift course into the pit.

Good thing, it was not that serious though as the car just needed a bit of service and was still fully functional come qualifying sessions.

Despite this slight hiccup, I tried to stay focused. I believe the important thing after that incident is to be calm and perhaps recite “Hail Mary’s” as many as I can to fight my demons and remain positive for the rest of the morning.

Eventually, I would soon find myself in the qualifying sessions with the same car I unintentionally crashed during practice. Was it a bad omen? Or just redemption? Again, I had to fight off all my demons and just reminded myself of all the preparations I’d done for me to just throw these all away.

“Focus,” I said to myself. “Be calm.”

To make the story short, I placed third in the qualifying sessions and just maintained my pace until the finals.

Podium, finally. At last.

And I couldn’t wait to even place better the next time around.

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