A day with Circuit Showdown champ Marc ThommanBy Botchi Santos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
It’s summer and I’ve been doing everything to get readers outdoors and more involved with their cars, with driving and visiting our country’s various tourist destinations. Well, a few months prior, I did just that: I went on a scenic drive to Clarkfield, Pampanga, onto the Clark International Speedway to enjoy a couple of hours of track time and expert tuition from Multiple Circuit Showdown champion Marc Peter Thomman.
First off, a little background intro. Circuit Showdown is the brainchild of couple Enzo and Dalia Guerrero-Pastor, themselves accomplished race car drivers, with Enzo having competed in the pro-level Philippine Touring Car Series, as well as multiple races abroad. Dalia has had her own fair share of track action, starting in time-attack/time-trials before moving into production-based, wheel-to-wheel saloon car racing like her husband. Soon, costs started increasing, and the couple found it difficult to continue racing. To race a full season with a decent chance for success, the best estimates figured seven digits for a single-car team, barring any major mishap. The couple wanted a proper venue to attract serious race enthusiasts like themselves who didn’t have unlimited budgets, hence Circuit Showdown was born and is now the largest racing series in the country that draws large numbers of competitors in their events. People like Marc Thomman.
Marc’s a fun guy to hang out with even before we hit the track. He’s serious about his craft, but doesn’t have the prima-donna attitude one would expect from a Champion Racer, is very helpful, offers tips and insights about driving and shares his experiences candidly. He’s half German, is married, lives in Pangasinan where his daily grind is the boss and owner of a machine shop that services industrial machinery. I found it interesting that he studied in Japan on scholarship and we find a common ground to discuss all things JDM: cars, food, sights and sounds of Japan and even the language which, along with German, English and Filipino, Marc can speak quite well. I only know a few words but it’s enough, we start laughing as Michael Paglinawan, our common friend joins in as he knows Japanese as well.
I’m attending one of Marc’s practice, test and tune sessions. Sounds glamorous, but the only other persons on track aside from Marc and myself is Michael, Marc’s friend, sponsor and PR manager of sorts, Marc’s assistant/mechanic, photographer Taz Dacumos and a few birds. While we chat, Marc gives me a basic rundown on his car: it’s a Japanese-spec Honda Civic Type-R hatchback with a heavily modified B-series engine Marc built himself. Marc’s an engineer so he knows his stuff and has assembled a good number of engines in the past. Most of the parts are supplied by Michael, usually heavily discounted or free if Michael’s pockets can afford it. For Michael, it’s a testing ground to prove that his products, many of them non-Japanese/non-American/non-European, (basically China and Taiwan-made components) are just as good and reliable on track and under duress as the more big-name brands that are in the Filipino enthusiasts’ consciousness. Michael’s spent a good amount of time, testing parts and brands with Marc to determine what is of high quality and worth bringing in to the local market to sell.
Marc’s particular about his car despite the modest budget he spends annually. He races on Hankook Ventus RS2 intermediate race tires which he tries to preserve for as long as he can, and once past their prime, he keeps them for practice sessions like this. His suspension parts, Yellow-Speed Racing coil-overs and A-Spec Racing or ASR suspension braces are imported by Michael’s Richmond Autoparts business, along with most of the components used in Marc’s car. Marc insists that these are fresh every year so after one season, Marc removes the old set, sells them to fellow-racers and enthusiasts and install a new-set of coil-overs to ensure that the parts are in good working order always. His drivetrain parts consists of an Exedy Clutch, Japan’s largest clutch manufacturer for both OEM and after-market, coupled with a Competition Clutch USA lightened flywheel. Goodridge brakelines, a well-known brand in the industry is used to give firm, consistent and positive feel at all times and is mated to a JBT big brake kit that consists of larger multi-piston calipers up front with 2-piece rotors and JBT brake pads all around. Lastly, a Mishimoto radiator with a large FAL cooling fan chills the engine. There are other secret parts and mods like Skunk2 engine parts but Marc doesn’t want to share all of them just yet.
After I’m strapped in tight, helmet on, Marc warms up the Civic on Clark’s long straight to get the temperatures and pressures up. We’re the only car on track so we use a combination of short and long track, depending on what aspect of the car Marc wants to test, check and feel like taking to the limit. Our laps get faster and faster and very soon I’m scared silly. Marc’s Civic is pretty light, probably just over 1,000 kg with both of us on board, plus fuel and fluids. Acceleration isn’t as manic as other cars I’ve driven, but cornering speeds are downright insane as the super grippy Hankook intermediate race tires, despite being on their last legs, give impressive grip. We’re approaching the final turn leading to the main straight at 110 kph and accelerating and Marc just lets the car slightly wide to get more weight loaded up onto the outside tires, testing to see if they still have grip, and just dives for the clipping point on the apex. My eyes are half closed as we enter the main straight, already at what looked like 140 kph and still accelerating hard. I look at Marc, give him a weak smile. He grins and just goes at it again onto the short track where he almost literally takes it flat out. By this time my neck is really hurting and by the time we get to the straight leading to the pitlane, Marc sees I’ve had enough, the low fuel light comes on as well so we pit in.
Gassed up, my neck finally rested, Marc straps me into the driver’s seat this time. We take it slow, and I stall the car exiting the pits. Slowly but surely we build up speed and Marc starts coaching me on the correct racing line around Clark. We go faster and faster but I’m still nowhere near Marc’s times. My excuses? My neck hurts, Marc’s Civic feels edgy especially on sweepers, the steering is heavy (no power steering) and the seating position isn’t a comfortable one for me, plus the seat is too tight, constricting blood flow to my head. But I’m impressed with what Marc’s accomplished. He doesn’t have big name sponsors just yet (last I heard HKS and Emperor Motorsports were going to sponsor Marc HKS lubricants), and has a modest budget (or so he says) plus does most of the work himself, with the ECU tuning left to Speedworks Engineering. But for the most part, Marc builds and races his own cars.
Basically, my time around the short track is slightly faster than Marc’s time. On the long track that is. But this confidence in the racing lines later helps me when I attend the Porsche World Roadshow 2012 in Clark where I’m easily the most aggressive driver of the day, if not the fastest around the track. Familiarity does breed more than hostility.
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