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April 29, 2013

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger: Toyota Road Trek 9 Takes on Clark and Palawan

Photos by Ulysses Ang
The soft orange hue of the mid-summer sunrise greeted me as I drove into Toyota Global City—the flagship dealer that carries the new bolder and younger brand identity standard. As a Road Trek novice, I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this ninth outing (the previous ones had everything from mental to driving to even physical challenges) except save for two clues: the outline of a track curb on the invitation as well as the words, “Clark and Palawan: Reloaded”. Perhaps it could mean an Amazing Race-style winner-takes-all challenge or perhaps it could mean a date with the Clark International Speedway? Whatever it may be, I stepped down from my car, took a deep breath, and waited for the briefing to begin.

As the 36 or so “Road Trekkers” made their way to the briefing room, the spirit of competition was high: lots of sizing up and goading between teams. This year, I was once again teamed up with Power Wheels’s Ira Panganiban and The Manila Standard Today’s Dino Directo. For a slight change of pace, fellow STAR writer Angel Rivero moved to another team (which, in the end, proved to be highly beneficial) and Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Carlo Mercado took her place. Clearly, our very diverse personalities (we were the only team composed entirely of different publications) should work to our advantage.

This year, Toyota wanted to highlight the capabilities of their entire line-up and thus they had almost the complete line from the Vios all the way to the Alphard. Assigned the Hilux 4x2 MT with the new Variable Nozzle Turbo or VNT-equipped engine, I was the designated driver and thus made myself at home in the driver’s seat even before my team mates even settled in. The convoy rolled out one by one from Toyota Global City to Petron Lakeshore for the pit stop. With traffic snarled at the Buendia flyover, a couple of us backtracked and decided to take C5 instead. The Hilux was responsive and surprisingly maneuverable through traffic, with the new engine providing ample passing power. Even in city traffic, the Hilux was a fuel miser, registering 10.2 km/L and as the city streets turned into highways, that figure rose up to 15 km/L. As the Road Trekkers assembled at the pit stop, it was time to move on to the main event at the Clark International Speedway.

Toyota Motor Philippines President Mr. Michinobu Sugata welcomes the Road Trekkers.
At the Clark International Speedway, Toyota Motor Philippines President Mr. Michinobu Sugata greeted the entire delegation and introduced the company’s newest member: Mr. Jose Ariel Arias, the new Senior Vice President for Marketing. With the speeches done, it was time to prove the mettle of the Innova, RAV4, Fortuner, 86, Corolla Altis, Hilux, and Prius in a series of interesting challenges which tested both the cars and the participants. Each challenge had corresponding points and the team with the highest amount of points will be declared Road Trek 9 Champions.

New Toyota Motor Philippines Senior Vice President for Marketing Mr. Jose Ariel Arias is formally introduced to the members of the media.
The Innova Challenge required each team to load as much stuff as they can into the 1,008 liter cargo hold in under a minute (the second row seats were up). Of course, it was surprising for the Innova to swallow everything from plastic chairs to lawn tables to boxes, pots, and bins of various shapes and sizes. After that, it was a race to belt out the best tunes in the RAV4Tuner Challenge. Switching from RAV4 to Fortuner, from pavement to dirt, teams had to sing a song, be it Lupang Hinirang or A, B, C as in the case of our team, without missing a beat while posting the fastest time. At Area 86, the Toyota sports car had to be driven through a highly technical portion of the track without hitting a pylon while posting the fastest time. Next up, the Corolla Altis Challenge saw Toyota’s venerable compact being squeezed through an obstacle source highlighting the tight turning radius and maneuverability. Then, in the Hilux Challenge, Toyota placed a small circular kiddy pool in the cargo bed, and participants were made to cross an off-road obstacle course with the least amount of water spilled. The penultimate challenge is the Prius Challenge which required a team member to “race” the Prius for the best fuel consumption in the least amount of time (the eventual winner did a staggering 37.03 km/L). The bonus round had a “willing” team member ride shotgun with DMF Drift’s David Feliciano. With a heart rate monitor strapped on, the winner would be the person with the lowest heart rate—the perfect and light-hearted way to end Road Trek 9.

After the day’s fun but tiring challenges, each Road Trekker only had some R&R on their mind. With Mr. Sugata finally revealing the final destination as the enchanting province of Coron in Palawan, the participants drove in convoy from Clark to Subic the next day to catch a chartered flight from Subic to Busuanga. From there, it was a 45-minute bus ride and a 45-minute boat ride to the paradise that is Two Seasons on Bulalacao Island in the Calamianes Group of Islands.

At Two Seasons, the eventual result of Road Trek 9 was announced. And though I honestly thought we stood a good chance of winning this year, alas, we didn’t even place in the Top 3. But, Angel’s move to another team (composed of Stoplight TV’s Eggay Quesada and Matt Montoya, and Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Kenneth Del Rosario) brought out a different level of competitiveness and they were eventually crowned as Road Trek 9 Champions.

Road Trek 9 winners or not, staring at the soft orange hue of the mid-summer sunset at Two Seasons made me feel like a winner already. I can’t help but remain in awe at how Toyota can continuously raise the bar with each succeeding Road Trek. This annual event not only offers the motoring beat a chance to compete against each other in friendly camaraderie, but also to relax and see the great wonders of the Philippines. Of course, it also provides an opportunity for Toyota to once again prove that their cars are truly the industry’s best. Only a few days have passed, but I can’t wait to go Road Trekking again next year.

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