12 August 2010

Subic raceway closes, but owner eyes more int’l races

The Subic International Raceway (SIR), the first international raceway in the Philippines, has flagged off its black-and-white checkered pennant for the last time here, marking the end of its 17-year stint as a popular attraction for racing aficionados.

In a bittersweet celebration at the racetrack last weekend, representatives of more than 20 motor racing clubs in the country led by the famed racing Ramirez family, gathered at the SIR for a three-day racing event dubbed as “The Last Lap” to bid farewell to what was once a home to racers.

Seventeen years ago, after decades of trying to put up a dedicated racing facility, the late Pocholo Ramirez, Mike Potenciano and five other icons of Philippine motor racing opened the SIR and revived circuit racing in the country.

When it was completed in 1994, the 2.9-kilometer, 12-turn-circuit SIR became the first year-round racing facility in the country. It became the country’s first international race track later.

Georges Ramirez, son of Pocholo and organizer of “The Last Lap”, recalled, “Seventeen years ago, I can still remember th
e place was filled with ash, and it was an exciting time. Thanks to Subic (Bay Freeport) and the SBMA, we were able to revive and sustain circuit racing for 17 years.”

“And here, 17 years later, it is coming to an end, which is a bit sad,” Ramirez added. “It’s been a landmark. It’s been an important part of the motor sports in the Philippines and tourism.”

Since its inception, the SIR has hosted many national and international racing events for cars, motorcycles, bicycles, go-karts, soap box derbies, remote-controlled cars, and even horse-and-carriages.

It also became the venue for drag races, rallies, slaloms, drift events, and even driving school and club events.

Ramirez said the typical race season consisted of a Formula 3 race, motorcycle races, SVI Grand Prix, and the Phi
lippine National Touring Car series which uses touring cars, Miata (Mazda) and vintage cars.

Usually, 12 races of three days each were held in a year. Likewise, a “Run What You Brung” race was held in April, an
d the Annual Philippine Motor Sports Festival was featured in November.

Before its closure, the Subic raceway was operated by Sports Values, Inc. of the R
amirez family, and governed by the Automotive Association of the Philippines (AAP) and the Federacion Internationale de Automotive (FIA).

The raceway witnessed many of the famous feats of Filipino drivers in the motor racing world, including the Caltex–Mitsubishi Production Car Championship in 1995-1996, as well as in 1997, and 1998-99, and the most prestigious Formula Asia in 1996.

At the Subic raceway, Mike Potenciano became the only Filipino to win rookie championships in 1996, and also placed 2nd over-all, missing by only 2 points, in the Formula Asia 2000.

Potenciano also noted that in the last Formula series in 2003, Subic drivers using Shell Formula 3 won the first place, beating competitors who had more improved cars in the promotion class.

“And the fact that Subic was always hosting the first leg of the Asian Formula series made it a very good experience,” Potenciano added.

Meanwhile, Ramirez gave the assurance that even when the Subic raceway closes, the sprint race will not go away and more international races will be seen in Subic in the future.

“We would like to organize more races, even though our permanent track might be closed,” Ramirez said. “If we could be allowed to use the runway at the Subic Bay International Airport on weekends, we can still organize races.” (SBMA Corporate Communications)