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Cannonball Race Philippines 2017: I did it!
Hotel PAN PACIFIC and it's Butler Service
In association with, promoting Hotel PAN PACIFIC Manila
homepage: Cannonball Club Philippines
facebook: Cannonball Club Philippines
Starting at 2am in the night the race went from Royce Hotel/Clark north to Tarlac - Arloc, negotiating the remarkable Dalton Pass, then Aritao to Baguio. Scenic, demanding road. Then join McArthur-Highway (Philippine history!!!) and back south to Royce Hotel/Clark and receive the honors.
The race took place 6 January 2017, starting in Clark, about an hour's drive north of Manila. Since I had to fly in from Dumaguete/Negros I met my australian Co-pilot at Ninoy Aquino-airport in Manila. That was the moment disaster struck.
I had already started weeks ago negotiating a Mitsubishi Montero Sports Diesel for the event. Just to make sure nothing went wrong, to be on the safe side.
For several GOOD reasons: Since the race distance was 500km I wanted to do that without having to refuel. That made a Diesel first choice, the endurance is good enough. Then the Montero Sport has minimum sufficient horsepower, just short of 200hp, acceptable acceleration and Top-speed.
Reliable disc-brakes all around. A bit small, but, well, ok. I was ok with this! I thought I could make this car the WINNER.
The Montero is a nice, convenient, comfy drive: You bring Your music, You feel good inside.
I thought I needed an SUV (S ports U tility V ehicle) since You can hardly drive a flat, powerful, fast sports car, nose on tarmac, in the Philippines. Bad, sometimes unpaved roads, unforeseeable construction/repair sites, deep excavations, even deep wet mud could occur, and so on. Better SUV than Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini: It would not have been possible with these. Be it then You bring the Rallye-optimized Porsche 950. Even if I'd have access to such. Which I didn't.
So, the best race-car ever, my uncompared ONE-OF-A-KIND (!) Hohenester S2GT, built like the world rallye champion car of world champion Walter Roehrl (only my car was FASTER!), here on the Nuerburgring could not be there :(
Me and my 300km/h Hohenester S2GT on the world famous Nuerburgring in Germany
Nobody in the universe can desire one of these new world australo-american V8 Kangaroo-cradles they call "muscle cars".
For a few bucks You could do a reliable engine-remapping giving You an additional 50 hp. 250hp sounds already pretty nice. GOOD to GO! After finishing You take out the chip and reverse the car to factory standard. And I had a few more tricks in mind to make this car quicker and nice enough to enjoy. Great!
The guys assured me I'd have the Montero. I was happy! I knew the Montero well, I had driven one for a while, and I liked it.
I'd have brought in my Kia Sorento since this one was good to go, too, but the distance was 1000km from Negros to Manila. This did not make sense.
Since I was on Negros my co-pilot attended the driver's briefing in Makati. And he was to pick up the car in time, then me.
I was in for the first serious shock on arrival: it took me an hour to find my co-pilot. For whatever reason. Then, the second surprise was even worse: he showed up in a Toyota Fortuner. This was a worst case scenario: no power, heavy, drum-brakes at the rear axle. How can You build a car nowadays with drum-brakes??? That's World War I technology. Toyota does that, and this is one reason why they lose against the german VW-group!
Problem was: I lost significant acceleration, and, worst of all, about 30-40km/h top-speed! TERRIBLE. Could I still reach into the Top Ten, or even win? I was not so optimistic any more.
I said: skipping the word "sh..!: "How could You accept they broke their word and offered You this piece of .... junk?" He shrugged.
Ok, I thought, nothing I can do. No chance to find a Montero on short notice.
Little did I know that shock no. 3 was already showing up.
I had agreed with Hotel PAN PACIFIC to put their stickers on the car. "Ok, I said, "come on, let's do it now and head to Pan P to pick up the stickers, then we get to Clark.
"Oh", he updated me, "we have a problem: we cannot do that."
I stopped breathing: "We cannot do WHAT?" I could only give back. "We cannot go there. The car is color coded." Color coding means, that since the Manila authorities have no decent ideas how they can manage the daily traffic avalanche they chose the option that You are not allowed to drive a car one day every week depending on the last digit of the number-plate.
I shivered. I understood. I knew. Since I was already deep in trouble - one of my worst days in Manila! - because of this a few months earlier. Life sometimes teaches You the hard way. But that's another story.
These world champions, these businessmen, these bandits gave him not only the wrong car: they gave him a car that was not allowed to be driven at this time in this area. And he accepted. Unbelievable - unlivable.
So we had "9", meaning Friday. This was Friday.
My BLACK FRIDAY!
Waiting for the stickers I realized the girls were not present. I had arranged with two sexy ladies who told me they were excited and looking forward to go to Clark with us. They did not show up. Since I know the Filipinas I had STRONGLY instructed them when to come to the airport. I started making phone-calls. Result: the next disaster! They could never make it in time, and I could not pick them up.
No sexy show, no pictures with the car. Terrible. I was mad.
I called the Hotel and explained. They agreed to send the stickers to the airport with a Hotel car. The Hotel car was allowed to drive on Fridays: Great! Another hour went lost. I got my stickers.
My UNFortunate co-pilot with my UNFortunate Toyota Fortuner Hotel PAN PACIFIC Special GTI sporting the nice Hotel PAN PACIFIC stickers that had almost remained invisible.
Color coding means: You are not allowed to drive in Manila. We had to be at Royce Hotel in Clark for the race. We were in Manila, at the airport. Legally STUCK!
I felt getting slightly angry: "Ok, I said. We do it. The highway north is only short distance from here. We drive smack hugging the bumpers in the back of other cars so close that the omnipresent traffic enforcers/policemen cannot read the lousy number-plate." We did that and left Manila unharmed.
On arrival at the crowded racing start line we had to put the stickers on the car. Disaster 6: The car was black, the stickers transparent! You cannot read black letters on a black car. This one was easy: we did not remove the carrier-skin from the stickers, and taped the stickers on doors and hood. Disaster fixed. The tape was not so nice, but .... You see it!
I LOVED the racey atmosphere: this is the air I enjoy to breathe! The Hotel, show- and Sponsor-Tents. Cameras, TV, Flashlights. The rising tension. The preparations. The disasters. The desperate last minute repairs. The nice mixture of different, enthusiastic persons. Car-, bike-crazy guys, beautiful girls, some even went into the race too: Phantastic!
An exciting mixture of sometimes extraordinary cars, plus the bikes. If You are lucky You meet old friends there, petrolheads: Greetings to Jerry Rico!
Every now and then whispered rumors that a girl might be there with a bad, a doubtful reputation, lacking a flawless past, having lost her innocence in an (maybe even multiple!!!) act(s) of ... uuuuuuuh!...... S I N!
Yeeeeeaaaaaaah! And: Yiiiiiippiiiiieeeee!
My estimate was: Slightly 100 ---> plus cars, maybe 250 bikes. Cars and bikes in the same race, sharing the same roads, in everyday traffic. Not on a closed racetrack, like Clark Speedway. Notice to the organizers: WHY only didn't You implement some FAST laps on the circuit into the event???????
By now I was starting to get HOT to race!
I could manage to bring us into a parking position close to the start-stage, a good advantage, this meant: less traffic for us to overtake. SUPER! Even though I had to learn that the "beamers" were brought on the road first. Usually this is the privilege of the Porsches, but since there weren't any I thought it's ok to let the equally german BMW's go first.
And I did not mind, since nobody believes the "beamer"-folk are fast drivers, so let them have the advantage.
But THEN !!! I !!! was on the next pole.
I thought. Because my next disaster struck. My co-pilot, who was to do the first stint, had no hurry. "Oh, come on, let them go!" How can You ever WIN if You let the others go???? But to get out we had to push in! He didn't.
I did not intend to let anybody go!!!! It was US whom I wanted to see going. And I could move him in, we were OFF. Uuuuuffff!
It was time for disaster No. 10 to kick in. We had to leave Clark Freeport Zone, and there was an automatic gate. They have a toll-system in the Philippines.
The bloody gate did not open for us, and I could hardly see what was wrong, sitting in the passenger seat. After having lost the eternity of 5-10 minutes even though we were the only car there a guard approached us , pressed the green button, we got our ticket, the gate opened. Problem 11: lack of local knowledge of my co-pilot. And I was going STRAIGHT forward to DISASTER 12:
After entering the highway we could have easily done 120km/h. Or more! It was not only that the other cannonballers passed us, laughing, even the weekend-trip-family cars, some grandmas were faster than we were: since my australian champion thought 80km/h were just fine and sufficiently hot. I wanted to BURN the tarmac, TIRES! He burnt all my hopes and desires.
Why did I only team up with him??? When I met him he told me of his race-yacht. Ok, he's racey. That's good. And then he mentioned he'd done the australian cannonball several times. He showed me pictures of his cannonball-shooter. Looked good enough to go. He got me trapped.
Now I had a hard time stopping myself from exploding. The idea was though, that if I did jump on his neck, kicking his ass, I could as well finish the race right here without fighting him. So I let go. But it became worse:
Since then came Disaster 13, which probably was essentially my fault - but please: I was angry and desperate.
Disaster 13, 14, 15:
Since this was not my first event I already knew that often sth can go wrong in exactly the worst moment. So You have to be prepared, and I was: The Montero is equipped with a navigation-system. Usually I was well of with the Sygic-GPS-navigation in my phone. So I brought the phone, of course, plus a Sygic-tablet, plus a back-up-phone with a third independent system with google maps.
With THREE autonomous systems we are MORE than fine. I thought. Little did I know we actually had one more: an old fashioned map.
Now the bloody Fortuner came without a navigation-system. Of Course!!!. No problem: I had two usually reliable Sygic's. I thought. Because we had to find the right exit from the highway, which was close. And since my co-racer let them pull away, in the moment when we needed them so we could follow - which is NOT always a good idea. But sometimes. Now! -, there was no other cannonballer: no car. No bike.
And, since we were the only foreigners racing, we lacked the advantage of local knowledge. Which we urgently needed, since this was the moment my phone dropped out. Battery empty. I knew the battery tired fast, but I had the charging cable. Only the cable did not work. Since the manufacturers do NOT support one standard in usb-cables. They might work, or they don't. Mine didn't. I had to decide.
I said: "Take this exit!" and he did. The idea was: right exit, we are fine. Wrong one, and we can easily turn around and are back on the highway in a minute.
If we had taken luck and proceeded to the next exit, we might be in a situation to have to come all the way back.
My co-pilot produced a "map". The "map" was a piece of paper he found at a gasoline-station. It showed the McArthur Highway, and some bigger cities. No nowhere, no small roads, no villages. But that was where we were. And he was about to get mad at me because he thought I was to stupid to read the map.
Disaster 14 raised it's nasty head over the horizon: He needed a restroom, and I did too. But I was prepared! I had brought an "endurance-enhancer" so we did not have to slow down if this foreseeable problem arose. A big bottle with a wide opening. I fly aeroplanes without CR. I know! He did not like the option. He started looking for a restaurant. He found a 7/11.
Pitts Biplane, no CR, no bathroom, no 7/11!
Now we were in the middle of a car race in the restroom of a store, having small talk with the staff. And since he did not want to park right at the door, I had 100m to cover with my artificial leg.
I started the second phone. Took time. Only it did not work, too. Because we were out of reach of the phone providers. We were out in nowhere. No emergency phone-calls, no internet. Phantastic!
And only then he confessed: "Oh, I forgot to tell You: the organizers in the briefing offered a navigation-file for the Navigation, but I did not bring it." UUUUUuuuuuuuaaaaaaaaa!!!!!
Very relaxed from having drained he approached a truck. For about 15 minutes we drove WALKING SPEED!!!! Since he was not able to pass the long vehicle that did about 20km/h, not more. UUUUUuuuuuaaaaaarrrrghhh!
I started the tablet. Problem: with it's ten inch-display it did not fit in the windscreen mounts I brought. I had to hold it up with stretched out arms so it could find the GPS-satelites. A torture.
Finally I found where we were, and where we had to go. In the meantime we were far off. No return to the highway for the right exit. Since I knew the first checkpoint we had to go there. But we overshot. So we had to find the route first. We did. Then we took backtrack: all the racers were coming up from the other direction. I was in hell for 10km. Believe me!
I found the checkpoint, we got the stamp in our race-card, car no. 60. We reversed where we came from: ten km we did twice.
I found a chance to change at the check-point, and got behind the steering wheel: I was back in luck.
And OFF we went! I found I could advance pretty well. I overtook many bikers, many cannonballer cars: we were back in the game, and I did not intend to let go.
When the race was started there was a serious presence of police. And usually Your experiences with the "crocodiles" are not good. So I was worried that their strong open presence was the message: "Be VERY careful! We are everywhere, we are after You!" I was worried since it was my first cannonball event, other drivers had done several, so they knew better than I did. I had intended to inquire before the race was started, but I got no useful reliable information.
When we were on the right track I found that my worries had no basis: I was deeply impressed how every policeman I saw was doing good to promote the participants, to help the event! PHANTASTIC COOPERATION!
A big THANK YOU to the Philipino police: without Your great support this event could never be so UNIQUE!!!!
After the race I advanced this to the organizers, and they put it immediately on their homepage.
We approached Dalton Pass, and things got REALLY nasty. Especially for the bikers. I was happy we were in a SUV!!! It started to rain heavily, still in deepest darkness, and it got seriously cold, even more the higher in altitude we got. For the bikers that was the hardest part. Wet, cold, bad visibility even for me in the relative safety of the car.
Relative: since the roads to Baguio, the heavy traffic are always good to kill You, if You are unlucky.
There were lots of HEAVY, long trucks, jeepneys, buses, family cars, and all these cannonballers.
Every day game in the Philippines: many vehicles without lights, many that blind You with to much light: not funny!
I had to manage with the serial lights of the car. The preparation-plan before the start understood upgrading and improving the lights to race-standard. In all that mess I could not do this. Lots of the other racers did: they had excellent light, which was especially blinding us when we did our backtrack and some of them did not bother or forgot to switch down from high beam.
But again I could use the difficult situation to gain back at least a bit of the ground we lost before.
And since I am a biker myself I could manage to pass them in the right moment: I knew their problems!
The cars I met there were late starters. Nobody fought hard, so that went smoothly, too.
But disaster 16 arose: my australian cannonball hero started to fear for his life. If there was only the slightest tire-shriek he got pale. Every now and then I heard "Easy, Ulrich, easy! This is an endurance - event, not a race."
WRONG!!! Wherever he was in: I was in a RACE, and I wanted to WIN it!
I then understood we had two perspectives, his and mine! He wanted a nice sightseeing trip, I wanted to WIN the Cannonball SPRINT if I could. Two worlds, no bridge between.
They hardly drift and slide, in Australia. Straight on, aaaaaand slooooooooooowly!
I could do it now. But believe me: even if You want to perform well You slow down if somebody incessantly tells You "Easy, Ulrich, easy! I get a heart attack!"
I could have done my personal 100%, now. What I did was, let's say 90%. I was pretty happy when he finally fell asleep. But even then I could not reach 100% because at every tire-shriek I was afraid he'd wake up again: "Easy, Ulrich, easy!"
But I know I did pretty good because I passed many cars - cars that started in Clark way behind us!!! - 'n bikes, only 3 bikers overtook me, on a beautiful winding road, in the mornings daylight, no rain, good visibility, roads dry. There they could take advantage of their superior acceleration: I couldn't fight that, so I let them pass easily, I helped them overtake me safely.
By the way: this was what I saw from the bikers, and with only one exception from the cars I met: extraordinary fairness, and better than average driving skills. You see: it's perfectly ok if drivers compete. But when a slower fool tries to get "competive" when You are closing in from behind, if he starts fighting You badly, if he blocks You for nothing this is not ok.
So: if You are a slow fool, and You see a smart guy come up from behind: You pull over to the right side of the tarmac, by the shoulder, and You BEHAVE, wait for the devil to pass and vanish! Thank You :)
So on the way to Baguio and then downhill the dangerous steep descent to McArthur (several wrecks there, cars, trucks - safety rule No.1: if You do not brake You cannot overheat and thus lose Your brakes!) we did well in strong weekend traffic.
Until disaster 17 hit me: due to the heat of the engine our front Pan Pacific-sticker on the hood came loose. And it blocked the engine air-intake. So we had to stop and fix it: Another three minutes lost!
And on McArthur I just floored it, pedal to the metal. But it was just a slow Fortuner, not a road rocket.
In the race we met a few toll gates: You either have to queue the weekend traffic to pay cash. Or You can sport a transponder on the dashboard which get's You going in the fast lane without delay.
We did not have such a transponder. So we had to queue up in regular weekend-/holiday-traffic to get to the payment gate. Great advantage for the guys who had the transponder.
We lost about, I'd say 7 minutes in comparison at every toll gate.
When I passed the final stage on he finishing catwalk I had no chance to calculate precisely how much time we lost in the TERRIBLE first stint.
Come on, guys: The class
W I N N E R of the 2017 Cannonball Race Philippines. (class: handicapped disabled foreigner). one class, one competitor, one
W I N N E R !!!
I'd say: we did about 60 km to much. We lost about 90 minutes. My fuel calculation worked out precisely, even though the faster portion back slurped the tank almost empty.
So we could have done it in 7 hours 41 minutes. Even with the lousy Fortuner with the drum brakes. Which, by the way, performed ok.
Coming in we were being told that about 25 cars were already in before us.
We finished after 9 hours 11 minutes, AVERAGING 59km/h, which is, in itself, pretty good - or even EXCELLENT - under these conditions and on unknown roads You never saw before, in the Philippines.
I tell You: not many in the race were that fast. And no one with such a terrible car!!!
If this is putting us better than 30 overall this is a GREAT result for a first-timer, the only foreign starter in the flock! The organizer does not give a ranking. They give You You overall time only. You have that too, of course.
But, to my regrets, I did not end up in the Top Ten. Which is a pity. Because we could have done this.
Must I mention that I missed the victory - party in Royce Hotel? Because my co-pilot was homesick and wished to return to Manila right away.
I missed the party. And I HATE to miss a party. But I was glad to be back in Hotel PAN PACIFIC, with friends!. Until disaster struck again: Since my Filipina hated the race, she thought I'd kill me. This was not because of eternal love: since they do not love You, they love Your wallet.
But anyway: I guess she was jealous since I did not bring her to Clark, and because she hated that, she thought I might not be able to race when I had no money. Which was close to the truth. And I did not want my co-pilot to know, not borrow from him. She took out the money in my wallet, and my credit-cards. So I had to find money, and I did, but hardly enough since I had to pay a lot. I found out about the empty wallet when I wanted to pay the lousy Hamburger on arrival in Manila. Great!
No regrets, though: I am a lucky man! Only last week I met an american guy with his Filipina. She tried to kill him 4 times. Two times with a gun. For emergency he taught her to shoot, and she was good at it: she hits a watermelon with a 9mm on 45 feet, 15 m. When she got mad at him this was NOT the emergency he had in mind. I guess he then made sure the gun was out of reach after the second time. So she took the knife for her next two tries. But we are still generous, and kind, aren't we? So he's still with her. Maybe genuine love?
When I could not pay my Hotel-bills on leaving I called the Hotel Manager. But he did not answer his phone. Since he never answers his phone when he is playing golf. Makes sense.
It took the guys at the front desk one and a half hour until they had the idea to check my previous payments. They found my credit-card-number, and FINALLY I could pay and check-out.
So disaster No. 18 could strike: Since I missed my plane home to Dumaguete. No other one going. There was one going to Bacolod, arriving afternoon. I took it. And since the airlines know the problem, I had to pay five times more than usual.
In Bacolod I hit the bus. Going to Hino-Baan. Not to Dumaguete. So, in the middle of the night, I sat there on the hard for three hours to change the bus. So I finally arrived home in the dawn of Monday, 18 hours later than planned.
And then still 120km to go to pick up my car at the airport in Dumaguete.
We know: it's better in the Philippines. But I love it. Since it is never boring.
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