Pinoys on the podiums

- Brian Afuang -
Veteran racer Mike Potenciano took his second consecutive win in the AF2000 Championship series at the famed Bira International Circuit in Thailand a couple of weeks ago, in the process making him a strong title contender. In the prestigious Asian Formula Challenge, meanwhile, young race ace Enzo Pastor took the top podium spot twice in a row also at the Johor Circuit in Malaysia, turning him into the points leader. In the unlikely case you haven’t heard of these two guys, be proud to know they’re, well, true-brown Pinoys, even if they do not exactly fit into Florante’s vision of noses. And speaking of stereotypes, let’s cut this misplaced notion that the Pinoy’s talent in motorsports is the direct result of the driving habits we’ve developed through the decades. Jeepney drivers maybe sweet lovers, but most have repulsive driving manners with equally crappy skills.

Besides, let’s give Pastor and Potenciano their dues.

Let’s start with Pastor. The 20-year-old is being billed by some as the country’s next-big-name in racing. With good reason too. Barely on his first season in a truly international race event, Pastor is proving to be a serious threat to the older, more seasoned drivers on the circuit. Currently, he is leading in the Formula Renault Series with a substantial 22-point margin over second-placer Franky Cheng of China.

In the recently held sixth leg of the ongoing 2002 Asian Formula Challenge, Pastor dominated Rounds 11 and 12, taking the checkered flag ahead of everybody else in his class and thus allowing him to overtake Cheng in the points race. This, when all he really needed were two third-place finishes in order to emerge on top of the standings tally. But why settle for third when you can be first?

You can bet that dad Tom, and brothers Carlo and Don–all racers themselves–are mighty proud of their kin’s achievements. After all, winning the Asian Formula Renault Championship can definitely unlock doors to bigger and better paddocks. Current Formula 1 sensation Kimi Raikkonen was racing in Formula Renault before being snatched by F1.

Before this month ends, Pastor may be crowned Formula Renault champ. A future F1 drive for this Pinoy driver, hmmm?

Potenciano, on the other hand, has raced virtually every type of car before strapping himself on the lone seat of an open-wheel Formula race car. He has raced rally and circuit saloon cars alike, karts, even motocross bikes (although not professionally, he quickly says). More important, he has won them too. In a motorsport career that spans more than a decade, guess that was to be expected. Then again, a lot of drivers have been racing ever since their legs were long enough to reach the gas pedal and their necks could stretch enough to allow them to see over the dashboard and still couldn’t win anything save for the odd third-place trophy or two. Simply put, Potenciano wins because he’s got what it takes to win.

Especially in the wet. Earning the moniker "Rainman" obviously says a lot about the man’s talent in racing in the wet which if metaphorical push comes to shove can be compared to the Dustin "Rainman" Hoffman’s character’s accuracy in numbers. Bucking mechanical gremlins, Potenciano won or have placed second in the last races he competed in in the AF2000 Championship. Barely a couple of weeks ago, Potenciano claimed top spot in a race where he had to start from the sixth spot in the grid, no thanks to a broken rear sway bar and an engine that refuses to keep its cool. His recent back-to-back wins allowed him to lead the points standings by the slimmest of margins: One freaking point separates him from the extremely talented second-place man Dennis Lian of Singapore.

And what makes all these all the more newsworthy? Potenciano is the lone Filipino driver in this international field.

Expectedly, Potenciano has been working doubly hard in preparation for the next final races, which hopefully–but to the dismay of his rivals–will be held on a rainy race day.












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