There is no doubt that all forms of sports activities, including motorsports, have been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic since early 2020. Not even the Automobile Association Philippines’ very own Motorsports Development Program (MSDP) was spared, with its schedule of activities halted till the present.
The MSDP is a grassroots program that seeks to increase participation in Philippine motorsports by connecting with impassioned motorsport enthusiasts from all over the country. By organizing training modules and organizing gymkhana events across the three major island groups of the Philippines, AAP MSDP and its team of race instructors organizers has made motorsports accessible since 2015.
Fortunately, despite the hiatus, the effects of the program have somewhat endured given the pandemic. Three locations have shown their ability to sustain motorsports activities in their hometown, and grow their independent motorsports community.
While the MSDP focused on Gymkhana as its primary grassroots discipline, Cebu has been curious to discover other disciplines of motorsports. MSDP’s last visit in Cebu last February 2020 offered a whole weekend dedicated to the discipline of car rallying. Aside from the special module with lectures and hands-on drills for loose-surface rally driving, the MSDP organized its first Rallycross event. Rallycross is a single entry time trial event similar to Gymkhana, but done in enclosed dirt roads.
Teaching the rally discipline wasn’t difficult for the MSDP team as Philippine’s 10-time National Rally Champion Vip Isada, accompanied by the 7-time Rally co-driver champion Robbie Hermoso, continued to lead the weekend’s activities. The MSDP team taught the enthusiastic Cebuanos how to maneuver their vehicles on the dirt and briefed them on how to organize a sustainable rally club.
Now led by Jong King, the most recent Filipino to compete and finish two international rally events in recent history, the Cebu Rallycross Club (CRC) was poised for future growth alongside other enthusiastic rally drivers to-be. In early 2020, the CRC has set up a rallycross track in Consolacion, Cebu, and have consulted AAP Motorsports with drafting their rules.
But the pandemic came and it wasn’t until the latter part of 2020 that Jong and the CRC were able to return to club activities, running timed practices and having private rally lessons while following all the minimal guidelines to run a small sporting event under the pandemic. They were also guided by AAP Motorsport’s own safety guidelines for organizing events under Covid-19 situation, the Return to Motorsports Manual.
In fact, the CRC was one of the only clubs to have fully submitted their plans of running under the pandemic and running with the permit from their LGU, even having officials from the Cebu LGU evaluate their activities.
With the trust of being able to run such events, CRC also helped their local recreation karting track in Cebu, collaborating for the venue’s survival amidst the pandemic. The CRC had built a dirt course for rallycross events at Kartzone Cebu, and subsequently staging a Rallycross event, featuring 11 cars with 20 drivers.
We can only assume things will be bright for the CRC and Rallycross in the region. Surely following after Jong King, the next Cebuano international rallyist is just around the corner.
Cebu Not Losing Touch with The Love for the Tarmac
Since MSDP has not been able to travel to Cebu to organize Gymkhana events, it is fortunate that another tarmac time-trial event has been on the rise in Cebu.
The Battle X Circuit (BxC) series continues where the AAP MSDP Gymkhana has left off, featuring a similar format with a few innovations to keep the racing exciting. A lot of the MSDP Gymkhana Cebu finalists have been competing there, keeping their skills sharp and enjoying the competitions held in Kartzone Cebu.
Norris See, one of the senior MSDP instructors, is a consultant and regular marshal of the BxC. With his experience organizing MSDP events and his continuous development as part of the FIA Developing Officials program held in Hanoi, Vietnam, BxC is also poised to grow and last for the long term.
The Return of Misamis Oriental
The MSDP started driving clinics and Gymkhana races with the local racers of Misamis Oriental back in 2016. Since then, much enthusiasm towards Gymkhana and Autocross in the province has grown, with regular events organized by homegrown organizers and participated by the local drivers.
Mark Bernales, a Cagayan de Oro native and the winner of the 2019 Asian Auto Gymkhana Championshp – Korea, is a proud graduate of the AAP MSDP. Another local with promise is Gilbert Emano, who as motorsports organizer of the Iligan City Car Club (IC3) was sent to the FIA Developing Officials in Hanoi, Vietnam back in 2019 by AAP.
During less stringent quarantine community levels in their area, the two restarted motorsports with the help of their LGU. It was not without difficulty, as their event was in danger of being canceled due to popularity. Their first day drew quite a crowd after not having any events for a year. Early announcements had claimed their first Autocross event was cancelled only to be announced a few hours later that it was back on after securing another venue, moving the event to CDO.
The Autocross event continued and it turned out to be a success, feeding the enthusiasm of its local racers while putting high value on the safety protocols that their local government had set and with AAP’s Return to Motorsports safety protocols.
The events held had restored the confidence of the local government that the club could run these events safely. There will be more well-organized events to sustain future Autocross and Gymkhana events in the region. The club has also stated that they are preparing to come under AAP Motorsports as a fully affiliated club and race organizer.
Iloilo Return of the Cones
Iloilo Auto Cross Club (IACC), with the current reigning AAP MSDP Gymkhana chamion Ian Rosales as one of its members, has been under low profile for the moment. Still, the determination to improve as drivers and as a club hasn’t exactly halted. The IACC have organized private practice events with permission from their LGU and also following AAP Return to Motorsport guidelines.
With motorsports and its advocacy on Road Safety, some club members have been inspired by the social aspect of motorsports. Two members that operate commercial driving schools have started teaching some fundamentals of the safety module under the MSDP. They are hoping to create better drivers in the area by highlighting the good influence of motorsports.
However, due to the latest surge of Covid cases in Iloilo, the club’s Return of the Cones event that was scheduled April 2021 was postponed. But with proper planning that focuses on health and working with government officials to assure safety, Iloilo via the IACC has a pipeline of motorsport events to take place soon.
All in all, these top three provinces currently are the best places outside Luzon that are sustaining local motorsports during this challenging time of the pandemic. There are still indeed other places AAP will need to help to get moving again and restart motorsports nationwide.
As the program is internationally recognized by the FIA, many will have their sights on the progress and growth of AAP’s MSDP. There won’t be any stopping of MSDP’s continuous efforts now as shown by the mentioned clubs. These locations and their respective clubs have grown and progressed independently with remote guidance from AAP-MSDP.
As for other MSDP locations that have had difficulty restarting, AAP’s support to getting back on track will be in reach also through remote guidance. AAP’s long-term plan to promoting fair, safe, and affordable motorsports will be a continuous effort, as well as helping these drivers race nationally under the AAP and hopefully also internationally, under the FIA umbrella.