Potenciano takes pole, then podium in Formula 2000

- Brian Afuang -
Not that Pinoys were ever strangers to international motor racing. Our compatriots have been taking checkered flags back when cars had carburetors and drivers need not wear anything remotely resembling a race suit. But motor racing has become a completely different animal these days, and when a Pinoy manages to tame and conquer this modern, computerized, pit babe-infested beast, it’s hard not to notice.

Which is to say it’s hard not to notice Mike Potenciano these days. Competing in Asian Formula 2000, he’s the country’s bet in the Asian Festival of Speed race series, which has events scheduled in circuits around our part of the planet. The guy’s performance, starting with strong second and third place finishes at the inaugural event in Subic, has been nothing short of impressive. In the Sepang leg of the series, for instance, Potenciano was on pole come race day. Now just in case that previous statement did not sink in, Potenciano’s driving was simply that brilliant during qualifying that he captured pole position on the very same racetrack that was specifically built and which held nothing less than the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix. Last March, Michael Schumacher was on pole in F1; in AF2000, Potenciano was. Be like Mike indeed.

Then, at the Bira International Circuit in Pattaya, Thailand, Potenciano won. From pole position at that too.

Held the weekend of August 24 and 25, the Bira races were Rounds 7 and 8 of the AF2000 series. Potenciano started his race weekend on a low-key note, being one of the slowest cars out on the track during the practice sessions. Turned out he was only preserving his engine, though, which was newly built after the Sepang leg. "We’re really at a crossroads this weekend," Potenciano said. "It’s a toss up between going all out and driving sensibly to conserve the engine for the remaining rounds of the season."

On qualifying day, Potenciano was a close contender to series leader Meckel Ali of Indonesia. With threats of rain on the qualifying session, however, Potenciano was soon regarded as the man to beat, having earned the reputation in the paddocks as the best man in the wet. The best driver on a wet racetrack, to be perfectly clear about it.

On race day itself, Potenciano made what’s called by F1 commentator Chris Goodwin as a "demon of a start" to immediately get away from the rest of the pack. But not away from Ali, who hounded him for eight laps and whom he briefly tussled with during the first few corners of the opening lap.

"Both of us had a good start and Ali was pushing me very hard. I had to make a defensive move on him at Turn Two because he was extremely close," Potenciano said.

"He was pressuring me all the way. On lap nine, we approached the first chicane using the same racing line and he was right up on my tail. Looking at my rear view mirror, he took the same line going into the second and final chicane but we made a different exit out of the corner," he added. All that pushing took its toll on Ali, as the Indonesian driver spun out on that lap after a tie rod on his car broke.

Ali, however, got the better of everybody else in the next race, which he won. Potenciano, who started on yet another pole position, had to settle for a close second place finish, not more than two seconds behind.

Potenciano, though, would not let this cloud his day. Extremely happy with his win (and in fact the first thing he told this writer when we met at the F1 viewing at Craic Sunday last was "you haven’t congratulated me yet"), he said it almost feels like being a rookie again as he stood on the podium, and that Pattaya has become a memorable place for him. Surely, he was referring to the Bira circuit and not on the other attractions of Pattaya.

But clouds in sight or not, well, he is the rainmaster. Rain mean things can only get better. And there is always the next race.











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