After doing it last year I promised myself that it was a one-off experience. If I were to do it again, I needed a more compelling argument than simply defending my finish as the first car with the best time and 6th overall by safely completing the 1,200 kilometer Luzon route in less than 24 hours in our 312bhp C! Fastfleet Hyundai Genesis Coupé among 12 cars and almost 200 motorcycles. With a reasonable average pace of roughly 76 km/h and expert navigation by my co-pilot/navigator/chronicler Isabel N. Delos Reyes, the C! team accomplished the Ironman V with a time of 17 hours and 29 minutes. It was an incredible experience to be sure with the extra bonus of driving through massive areas of our beloved country where I had never been before. I knew I could do it, heck I drive for a living, but could I beat the motorcycles? Now that was my extra challenge…with deep frustration, I failed, 4 motorcycles passed me as I stood in traffic in Tarlac an hour away from the finish line in Clark. The first finisher clearly bested me as far back as in Ilocos Norte appropriately in a BMW R 1200 GS, I never saw him again.
The whole concept of the challenge is safety combined with endurance and precise navigation. It is not a Cannonball or Gumball rally. Whether you’re first or last to cross the finish line within 24 hours, there is no official ranking, you are simply given a certificate symbolizing the completion of the challenge. But would I do it all over again?
This time around I needed a heck of lot more convincing to participate once again in one of the most grueling motorsport events of the year, the sixth installment of the annual (BMW Owners Society of Saferiders, Philippines) BOSS IRONMAN Challenge. Here where the factors that finally tipped the scales; a) James Deakin would be joining in a brand new BMW X1 with Elbert Cuenca, b) Mercedes Benz offered me their new ML350 CDI Grand Edition, c) The final installment of the Concept One Race of Champions series was on the same weekend and at the same final destination in Clark, d) My cousin Miguel Bichara would also be joining on a BMW-sponsored F800, and e) The competition had swollen to over 60 cars and almost 300 motorcycles. I had to do it now, one last time!
My objectives were simple, safely finish the Ironman VI in time to reach the Race of Champions at the Clark Track so that I could still participate and be in contention for overall series champion in the media class! That meant I had to start in Pole Position, an honor given to me by Ironman Challenge Chairman Joey Almeda for my performance last year, and do my best to get to Clark before 4 pm without putting a scratch on the ML350.
Deakinaitis, the contagious streak of bad luck affectionately named after its creator James Deakin, struck me in two very critical ways, the first more obvious, the second was a mystery until it was finally unraveled at the finish line. The afternoon before flag-off, during final preparations at the Bridgestone Tire Center in Alabang, Carlo Lee, the excellent manager of the facility, discovered a huge blister on the tire wall of the right front tire while he supervised the nitrogen air transfusion on the ML. Disaster! After a quick call to Andros Villaraza, head of marketing at CATS Motors, I made the decision to transfer the compromised tire to the rear and committed to drive vigilantly. Thankfully my efforts to preserve the tire rewarded us ultimately with a safe return home after the long motorsport weekend.
The second wave of Deakinaitis plagued us via GPS sabotage. James had suggested that I update my Garmin GPS system with the official Ironman VI waypoints available for download on the official event website. I had no reason to doubt James and the website so I did it. The Garmin seemed to work well until we got to the second waypoint. From then until the very end, all our waypoints were erroneous, the most critical being the ones during the night and in Baguio. My co-driver Isabel (once again) and I kept arguing about why we were being misled and when I finally decided to allow her to sleep through a few hundred kilometers after Nueva Viscaya, I relied solely on the Garmin. That decision cost me an additional 135 kilometers!
Still I didn’t know why I felt like I was driving blind for so many hours throughout the journey. Only two cars ever passed me, and James Deakin wasn’t one of them yet he was running second?! We verified this via the tracker that was installed on the ML at the start in Balintawak which updated us on the locations of particular cars and motorcycles which could be seen online in real time. Joey Almeda then volunteered the information that the guy who setup the official waypoints had messed up!
The ML350 CDI proved to be thirstier than I had predicted too despite the potent and frugal diesel engine. We had to refuel two more times than expected. Still we were rewarded with a very comfortable and capable long distance SUV that was satisfying to drive though I had to keep the pace quite reserved to preserve the bad tire. Furthermore, the ML’s handling was also compromised by its comfort-biased suspension setup which is best used driving at under 80% of the SUV’s speed capabilities.
In the end, Isabel and I still finished 3rd in cars and once again 6th overall with a time of 15 hours and 27 minutes, an astonishing 2 hours+ quicker than our time last year! We did make the Race of Champions too where I quickly donned a helmet on the track and continued to drive making enough winning points over the weekend to earn the Championship of the media series! Would I do the Ironman again? We will have to wait and see won’t we! I want to thank CATS Motors for the noble ML350, Joey Almeda, Henry Lee, the whole BOSS organization and all the participants for yet another incredible experience! Godspeed!
Specification – 2010 Mercedes Benz ML350 CDI Grand Edition
Engine: V6, 2987 cc, dohc 24V, Turbodiesel, 7-Speed G-Tronic AT
Max power: 231 bhp @ 3800 rpm
Max torque: 398 lb ft @ 1600-2400 rpm
0-100 km/h (0-62mph): 7.6 sec.
Top Speed: 220 km/h (137 mph)
Fuel Mileage: 18 mpg City & 25 mpg Highway
Price as tested: PhP 5,980,000.00
+Ultra comfortable, handsome, best of the breed
C! RATING 9.0/10