Classic Ramblings on Pirelli presents Tour De Cebu 4

The fourth of many more to come

Alexandra Paul was the actress who starred in the cult hit, “Christine”, which was about a 1958 Plymouth Fury, that literally took possession of her owner. It was a horror movie that strangely appealed to car guys of my generation.

I don’t really know what it was about it that appealed to me. Maybe it was the concept of “possessiveness”, after all, we do develop a strange relationship with our classics, almost treating them just like living members of the family. But I really like what Alexandra said later, “The cars we drive say a lot about us…”

I know what people normally say about BMW owners, much less Porsche drivers. And that’s not counting Ferrari or Lamborghini, but I think there is a universal love and appreciation for classic cars. For a variety of reasons, classic cars appeal to all generations and classes. But many of the onlookers cannot imagine driving a classic car, much less living with one on a daily basis. The main perspective is that they are best enjoyed in a dehumidified garage, only to be looked at, touched and felt, but no longer driven, especially in anger and bad weather.

Hence the befuddlement, when people hear about the recently concluded Tour De Cebu. It is extremely difficult for people to comprehend as to why owners and drivers of these now rare and precious automobiles would subject them to hard driving in bad weather. But that’s exactly what happened, one epic and unforgettable weekend. Indulge me as I try to describe the events as vividly as possible.

Day 1

The Port of Cebu was in a stir early Friday morning, the 20th of October, as 47 rare automotive sculptures lay idling, as their owners mingled, giddy with excitement and manic nervous energy. Drones buzzed overhead, shooting moving images for posterity while mechanics scurried about, checking and tightening. The presence of three extremely good-looking foreign teams lent the atmosphere the aura of a movie set. This coupled with the usual local celebrities and photographers attracted onlookers like flies to a feast. Participants moved around, some in period race suits, others in tropical gear. Many onlookers could only shake their head in bewilderment, as the foolhardiness of driving these cars on another island amid the quickly darkening weather just defies logic and even common sense.

But amazingly, none of the participants looked worried. They took turns nonchalantly chatting with fellow drivers and navigators while also admiring the different marques and models present. The sights, sounds, and smells added a very surreal experience, especially since these images are normally confined to magazines and motor exhibits.

The great Enzo Ferrari once called the Jaguar E Type coupe as the “…most beautiful car in the world…” and true enough, the presence of two, a Series 1 Roadster and a coupe with a rare webasto roof had many jaws dropping. The loud whine that accompanied the revs of an extremely rare Austin Healey 100M Le Mans Competition Roadster forces you to comprehend the actual definition of rarity. The loud metallic rasps and clatter of an intimidating gang of air-cooled Porsches clamor for your attention amid the deep rumble of several American V8s. Beautiful Alfas jostled for attention with a couple of Datsun 240s, while a rare Saab Sonett V4 in sunbeam yellow forced a lingering gaze. It was literally a feast for the senses, waiting to be taken in and consumed, but soon, frantic boarding calls began.

Fastcat is a boon to the nautical highway as it has been constantly deploying and rolling out spanking-new Ro-Ro ferries. It wasn’t too long ago when the Tour was using 40-year-old barges that made religious converts of the passengers during bad weather. The new ferry was clean, fast, and built to handle all manner of rolling cargo.

But I don’t think the captain and the crew were prepared for the extremely delicate loading required by that morning’s precious and irreplaceable cargo. The loading process turned out to be an event in itself, as the onlookers gawked and cheered each car and driver.

Aboard the ferry, several groups break out, nervously discussing and planning their different strategies. On one end, an astonished audience listens reverently as Eli Solomon and Angeline Khoo of Singapore regaled them with the story of how they prepped and shipped Archibald, the hulking Jaguar XK150 from Singapore, little knowing that by the end of the weekend, they would be alternating between terms of endearment and many descriptions of the “prince of darkness”.  Jason and Sarah Lemberg of BMT Restoration, the world’s largest restoration facility, led another corner discussing the many merits of restoration and race preparation. Local celebrity Dom Ochoa spent time passionately trying to elicit sympathy from his usual groupies on his lost and by the end, found, wallet. Veteran racers led by Michael Aguilar and his son, defending champion, Marty, are quietly resting, while Davao’s pride Willie Torres and Joseph Ng mentally prepare for the competition. Spaniards Stephane Vrinat and Oscar Perez of Spanish Porsche magazine, 9 Once Plus, chuckle in glee, as they exchange stories with Jay Aldeguer and Kenneth Cobonpue on the amazing roads up ahead. Michael Lhullier and his whole family chatted animatedly about the upcoming adventure while Tony Losada regaled the audience about his many exploits in life.

The cabin was buzzing with nervous energy that suddenly spiked as Mr. Murphy decided to exercise his natural law, sending huge waves crashing into the ferry, drenching the precious cargo below and immediately soliciting worry and tingling stomachs. The ferry Captain thankfully decided to slow down, much to the relief of the passengers and especially the owners of the precious rolling cargo, as their imagination ran wild with images of salt water-drenched classic cars.

But soon, we arrived at the Port of Tubigon, and activity soon rose to a crescendo, as drivers gingerly drove down the ferry ramp into solid earth. As the drivers still battled with the visions of seawater corrosion slowly drip-dripping, the heavens opened up and blessed everyone with a giant car wash. “Hallelujah !” the word was on the lips of many of the drivers.

The cars started to line up at the Tubigon Plaza for flag-off.  CNN Philippines’ James Deakin could not contain his glee upon finding and discovering his ride, a 1963 Chevy Corvette Stingray convertible, and noting the working roof (2 years of driving TDC in an open-topped roofless sports car in torrential rain has taught him an invaluable lesson apparently.)  He lined up the Corvette next to a Michel Lotus Eleven, with its distinct almost spaceship-like contours created so much visual drama. The mighty Nissan GTR lay silently menacing, waiting to be unleashed for lead car duties. Nissan Philippines President Ramesh Narasimhan excitedly paced the field of classic cars, shaking his head in amazement on why people would choose cars with absolutely no convenience versus the copper-orange, fully optioned Godzilla he was about to drive off in. The Autorambla Porsche team lined in a row, 5 classic aircooled fighter jets waiting to be violently launched. The many father and son teams were almost patting themselves for being there, Butch Francisco, Michael Lhullier, Alex Medalla, as well as myself and our sons and   father and daughter Tyrone Tan and Rochelle were already looking forward to a rare bonding experience.

The head marshal Pepon Marave soon signaled the start of the flag-off, unleashing the mighty Nissan GTR, and soon the participants were flagged off in groups of 5. First destination, the town of Danao.

Tour De Cebu is not a race but rather an event that emphasizes “being on time all the time”. It is a regularity rally that requires accuracy in time speed and distance in order to win. Every minute that one arrives at specific Pirelli control points early garners a 5-point penalty with a corresponding 1 point for every minute late. The winner is the team that garners the least amount of penalties overall.

The drive to Danao was not meant to be immediately challenging except for two critical unexpected points. Due to the delayed arrival into Tubigon because of the weather, we were an hour behind and had to make up time if we were to finish the first day while the sun was still up.  That and the fact that the rain never stopped pouring. Soon the drive to Danao became a soggy challenge as vintage wipers struggled with the huge deluge, which stayed with us the whole day.

Danao was a quick stop for lunch and time control and soon, cars were being flagged off in sequence of arrival (first to arrive, first to be flagged off). The weather was worsening, so everybody was in a rush and in an agitated and animated state of stress. The rain kept pouring but also brought with it flying winds, strong enough to move the cars sideways on the road, even while running at high speed.

But we soldiered on. Trees were shaking and swaying, creating an obstacle course on the road as branches and limbs flew and landed everywhere. Manolet Ramos’ Triumph TR4 lost its wipers as a branch fell unto it, creating an even more memorable experience for his navigator, his wife Alice. I can still picture him apologizing and apologizing as he determinedly drove on.

A large tree did end up falling and blocking the road for five of the participants, who had to wait for the crew to literally saw the trunk apart in order to pass.  The sun was setting early as the rains and winds tried their best to make participants regret their decisions and question their resolve. We drove on a beautiful coastal highway as huge waves erupted and leaped high enough to drench the asphalt, creating a visceral drama that defies a credible description.

Soon, we approached the last checkpoint at the bridge to Panglao island, handed in our time cards and carefully set course for our home in Bohol, the sprawling BE Grand Resort. All of us really appreciated the warm welcome that awaited us after a wet and challenging Day 1, as the hotel laid out the red carpet to welcome us home.

I was tired but I was checking to make sure all the participants arrived back. As every team arrived, conversations flowed and experiences were shared. Gerard Tan of Pirelli was deep in a debate with his navigator as to why they still had their time card and ultimately and sheepishly realizing that they had missed the final checkpoint. Darren Deen nonchalantly tells the story of completing the final stage with no way to slow down but to use his handbrake as he had lost the brakes of his Porsche 356. Doods Aboitiz and Lee Losada stroll in, fresh as a daisy, and spent the night smiling after completing day one in the comforts of their living room (they drove an ostentatious tank of a Mercedes 280 SE).

But I was nervously waiting for all our foreign teams to arrive, most especially the husband and wife tandem from Singapore, as they had literally bitten the bullet and bravely shipped their big Jaguar 150 in just to participate. And soon, I hear the big rumble of Archibald gingerly enter and park in the paddock. I briskly walk over, rehearsing my words of sympathy as well as assurance that tomorrow’s weather and driving would be better. I see a visibly tired and drenched Eli emerge from the driver’s seat.  I immediately asked him his impressions of Day 1, prepared to flinch, but then he stared at me hard, when a huge grin painted his face, and he almost screamed, “WOW! That was awesome! The harder it got, the more fun it became…”

And that was Day 1.