Ph racers may have been ‘taken for a ride’By Tessa R. Salazar |Philippine Daily Inquirer
Concord, North Carolina—They planed in intending to compete with world-class motorsport racers from 12 countries. They ended up as mere tourists racing only against time.
This wasn’t exactly the glorious finish the five Filipino racers expected when they were first invited sometime October 2012 by businessman Paul Monozca, described by various publications as an investment banker and sports philanthropist, to join what he called the “Nascar Racing Experience World Circuit 2013”, which he said he chaired. The Inquirer May 4 Supplement came out with a full section feature on this.
Monozca, a Singapore-based businessman who chairs the Monozca Foundation, pictured for them a date with destiny: simulator sessions, lap practices in the Charlotte Motor Speedway a few days before the actual competition, and a whole day of racing, complete with an international cast from 12 countries, on 865-hp race cars, in the sprawling 250,000-seat Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Naturally, the Pinoy racers were excited, and readily said yes to the invite. But there was a catch: The team had to raise P15 million for all the expenses needed in Nascar Race-Ex World Circuit project. Monozca then made a daring proposal: He promised his foundation would foot half of the budget and pledges raised for the sponsorships.
With that financial assurance, the team, composed of 6-time hill-climb champion Carlos Anton, Europe-trained karting champion Stefano Marcelo, Formula 3 driver Gaby dela Merced, Indy Lights-trained Michelle Bumgarner, and endurance racer Pia Boren, and this journalist arrived in Charlotte May 5, four days before race day, for practice runs.
By then, the cracks already started to appear.
Before the team departed for the United States, Monozca borrowed P260,000 from Anton to pay for the team’s accommodations and incidental expenses. He also asked John Marcelo, Stefano’s father, to chip in P200,000 more, apart from the P1.6 million Marcelo mandatory fee for his son’s participation. As of presstime, the two checks Monozca signed to pay back Anton and Marcelo have yet to be cleared.
Monozca justified this, saying, “the budgets were very tight as sponsors spread their sponsorship, and till today I am the key funder of the program. Out of all the sponsors/drivers, only John Marcelo had a personal contribution to the program, while all the rest were funded by the foundation and its sponsors. Most of the sponsors have not handed over anything and are also sponsors of the foundation and its over-all Spirit Program.”
On May 7, over the phone, Monozca and Michele Bumgarner’s father Lee, who was also her manager, argued over funding concerns. Subsequently, Lee pulled Michele out of the team.
On May 8, the day which was supposedly the only chance for the Philippine Team to practice on the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Monozca claimed there were other drivers on their practice sessions, and that the Philippine team had to wait. After waiting until afternoon, Marcelo insisted that they visit the Charlotte Speedway. They found no teams practicing there. The Philippine team was toured inside the oval circuit in a van instead.
Although the simulation sessions took place on Monday and Tuesday, the actual race on May 9 did not materialize. The promised full-day racing spectacle became three hours of basic driving sessions, with two eight-minute time trial sessions at the Charlotte Speedway. Marcelo said Monozca valued this activity at $30,000. The five drivers could have just gone there themselves as tourists and arranged for a track day, which would have cost them just $464 each.
Out of the 12 countries Monozca claimed would compete with the Philippines, only one team showed up: Six racers from Team USA Rev Racing’s Drive for Diversity Program. Monozca claimed that, due to the postponement of the Philippine team’s April races (the Nascar Race-Ex World Circuit was originally intended for an April run) and security concerns in the United States following the Boston Marathon bombings, other teams from other countries were no longer available.
Even the race cars used, with power outputs of just 450-hp (contrary to Monozca’s claim of 865-hp), were virtual letdowns. No sponsors’ stickers were in place in the race cars, as well. There were also no racing suits and helmets for the team.
Despite their visible disappointment, the Filipino racers decided to proceed with their track day. However, before doing their time trials, the racers confronted Paul and told him this was not the event they expected.
John Marcelo said: “This was not what the Philippine team signed up for. It was misrepresented to everyone, even to the Philippines and all the sponsors. This was renting a school to look like a racing event. Being professional drivers, we clearly know the difference between the parameter of a racing event and a car class.”
“I feel insulted we were at a track with a bunch of tourists,” said Anton.
Monozca told the group that when he talked to the Nascar Racing Experience committee, “it was made very, very clear that this would be a race.”
Monozca, however, stressed that this event would just be an “introduction” of international drivers to the Nascar circuit.
Denis Lian, an A1GP driver from Team Singapore whom Paul also invited to race, claimed that Monozca asked him for 6,000 Singaporean Dollars, as Paul said the Philippine sponsors’ payments had been delayed.
A statement from Monozca sent to the media put the blame squarely on Nascar Racing Experience’s shoulders. It stated: “We had a good experience with the Nascar Diversity Program at its Rev Racing facility in the first few days when the team arrived here in Charlotte. However, the main event was a big disappointment to the team and myself as the organizers of the Nascar Racing Experience put so many rules around the event that it did not come out as a real race, but instead was a time trial event which was unacceptable.”
Monozca said Thursday: “At this time we are getting to the bottom of this so we can close this chapter and move on. If sentiment has subsided by tomorrow, I have offered to bring back the team in August or September this year to participate in a Nascar Whelen series race—a more prominent platform. It will be more expensive than this trip, but it’s the only way to gain back the credibility of what we envisioned.”
He apologized “for the shortcomings” and “would like to turn the negative into a positive.”
John Marcelo told Inquirer that the team members were now set on protecting their credibilities, the names and reputations they have worked hard for, and to protect their sponsors as well.
The Philippine contingent met with Heather Lutz, vice president of sales and marketing of the NASCAR Racing Experience, to verify Monozca’s claims. Lutz showed her email message that showed Monozca could not hold a race but a regular drive at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Lutz told the group that she went through all the email correspondence with Monozca to see if there was any indication of misrepresentation about the experience.
“I don’t think we’re on the same page. Looking back at this, there’s a lot of back and forth conversations for about two years. It was the end of April (2013) when he said we’re going to pick a date, we’ve got drivers coming, this is what we’re going to do. I look back on all his emails, and (I’m) 100 percent positive there wasn’t any miscommunication.”
She stressed that Nascar Racing Experience “has been in the business for 12 years. We don’t lie to customers. We don’t sell an experience or tell someone they’re going to get something and they don’t.”