RP motorsports hang on amid crisis

Philippine motorsports is expected to weather the ongoing economic crisis as passion fuels the industry, experts said.

After all, when one looks back at the history of Philippine motorsports, there have certainly been tougher times compared with what the industry is experiencing these days.

From the OPEC oil embargo in the early 1970s to the widespread abandonment of the Philippines by almost every car company in the early 1980s to the deaths of the country's burgeoning international race car drivers like Dodjie Laurel and Jovy Marcelo, the country has seen its share of motorsport tragedies.

And history, at least on the economic front, seems to be repeating itself.

The price of oil, though already on its way down, is still quite high; while the global financial crisis has companies second-guessing themselves on how they can best manage their finances in terms of marketing and sponsorships.

When asked about the biggest factor affecting the state of Philippine motorsports, Batangas Racing Circuit president Johnny Tan mentioned "money" - without batting an eyelash.

"With today's economic downturn, companies that used to sponsor the races are holding on to their money even tighter," Tan said.

Seconding his observation is race car driver Kookie Ramirez.

"The talent is here. It's just that we don't have the kind of money to compete abroad. We kept winning the races in Hong Kong, in Macau, so what they did was to raise the competition fee every time, essentially shutting us out of their races," Ramirez said.

While money may be tight, the Automobile Association of the Philippines (AAP) has received - and approved - more competition license applications in 2008 compared with the previous years - proof that the flagging economy hasn't deterred the Filipino's passion for motor racing.

Of particular note are the races that do not really require much expense like karting, drag racing, and underbone motorcycling. Tan said these are three of the country's most promising motorsport series.

"Philippine motorsport needs to be developed in a grassroot-like setting, like karting for example. Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher started out as karters and look at what they've achieved," Tan said.

He added that local race drivers should really get more exposure in different competitions.

"If we start our drivers and they get exposed to competitive racing early on, then money won't be a problem anymore because they won't look for a race seat anymore - the race seat will look for them," Tan said. "And then hopefully, we might see a Filipino driver in F1 soon."

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