Odometer reading: 1299.5 kilometers. This is the moment when the Focus TDCI decides to sputter, starved of fuel after 4 days driving through all of Luzon, with the Bangui windmills of Pagudpud to our right.
This is the Ford Focus Coast2Coast Challenge 2, and already we’re on our last kilometer.
Rewind 4 days, and we were just landing at Legazpi airport, eager to get this monumental eco run started. Honestly, I’ve never been partial to fuel eco runs as my right foot, much like myself, has always been on the heavy side. Nevertheless, I wanted to get some eco driving experience under my belt, and thankfully my fellow driver, Inigo Roces, has quite a bit more experience when it comes to this.
After being shuttled to our send off point in Sorsogon, we were reunited with what was to be our steed for the next 4 days, the Ford Focus TDCI. There are 4 examples on hand: 2 models of the classic sport hatch and 2 models of the newly launched sedan.
The rules were simple, organized by the Tuason Racing School. Like the first Ford Focus Coast2Coast Challenge a few months ago, participants were rack up as much mileage as possible, employing all the fuel eco driving tips and tricks in the book. There were going to be no police escort to clear the way, so what we were going to set was a fuel economy record that reflects real-world driving conditions. We’ll have to dodge jeepneys, tricycles, and pedestrians all on our own. Animals too, but more on that later.
Use of the aircon was optional, but since turning on the compressor would rob the engine of power and increase the drag on the powertrain, so we were pretty much going to go at it without. Something that’s quite alright in December, but in the sweltering heat of the tropical summer, it was a whole other matter.
We had a target on our sights: to beat the 1,402.4 kilometer record set by another fuel economy challenge in a 1.3 liter gas powered hatchback. It was a possible target to surpass, but we were using a far larger, more powerful engine in a much heavier car: the Ford Focus TDCI. The Ford Focus TDCI uses a 2 liter turbo intercooler common rail diesel engine. We were confident about it’s power and efficiency, but that was on a level, wide open highway, not some 2 lane country road, where overtaking meant you’re in the opposite lane and maintaining a steady speed speed would be far trickier.
After getting our keys, we immediately began on making our cars as light as possible. Spare tire? Gone. Tools? Out they go. Rear headrests? We’ll, they’re pointless in a car without any passengers in the back. We even went so far as to empty the windshield washer fluid. A liter of water is still weight after all.
The tanks were already full, but we proceeded to cram as much Diesoline as we can into our respective tanks, gently shaking them to get the bubbles out and fill every nook and cranny possible.
With that done, we hopped into our Focus TDCI, a hatch, and drove off. In an eco run, the objective is to achieve the best speed while maintaining the lowest possible engine revolutions in the highest gear. Since our car was the TDCI, we had a twin-clutch 6-speed Powershift transmission to play with. For the transmission and engine combination, 6th gear can be had at the 60 km/h mark, and maintains a truly economical 1250 rpm.
Cruising at 60 on wide open country roads and winding mountain passes proved to be a challenge, especially when it comes to resisting the temptation to just step on it as we usually do. At dusk, we entered the CamSur Watersports Complex inside the Camarines Sur Provincial capitol, our stop for the night. We had covered just 130 kilometers, and already the heat had drained all our energy. What was strange was that JP told us it was just a taste of what’s to come in the next 3 days.
The night’s rest was a short one. At 3AM, we headed back on the road, making the most of the witching hours to make up some mileage without the hassle of daytime traffic and heat. I was behind the wheel, and the road was clear… until a cat decided to check out the other side. Normally I would either dodge or brake, but that meant losing precious speed, so I kept it at 60, and heard the trademark crunch a second later. Add to that the other cat-sualty that we’ll claim on the last day, and we can no longer say that no animals were harmed in the making of this run. Sorry PeTA.
We had to keep going, and as the sun was rising on the horizon, we had entered Andaya Highway and Quezon province. Immediately the usual fare of trikes, jeeps and trucks entered the roads, and the challenge was on again. After a few more hours, we arrived at our 2nd overnight stop at the ever Filipiniana resort of Villa Escudero at the outskirts of San Pablo City, Laguna. The 2nd day’s driving has added another 330 stressful kilometers on the odometer, but what we were really dreading was day 3, as it would mean a pre-planned 14 hours of driving.
After as much rack time as we can get until 2AM on day 3, we set off from Villa Escudero, and this time the route would take us from San Pablo City, through Laguna, Metro Manila, and all the way up to Vigan in Ilocos Sur. We were dreading the apparent construction of the Skyway, but luck was on our side as we didn’t encounter any traffic whatsoever all throughout the Manila stage.
As dawn approached, we were already on the North Luzon Expressway, heading onto the Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway. After the expressway stages, we were back onto the provincial country roads, passing through of Tarlac, Pangasinan, La Union, and finally on to Ilocos Sur. As we entered Vigan, the group decided against staying overnight there, and kept on going for another 2 hours to the Playa Tropical beach resort further north for the last night’s rest.
On the last day, we were to drive from Playa Tropical and head further north, passing the city of Laoag and on to Pagudpud. When we reach Pagudpud, we were to keep driving back and forth between there and Laoag to finish off our remaining fuel.
At the 1299.5 mark, our Focus began to sputter; it was almost out of fuel. We were determined to, at the very least, break the 1300.5 kilometer mark, lest we get JP’s disapproving nod. At 1,300.5 kilometers, our Focus had had enough, and had finally forced us to pull over and take on more fuel and head back to our lunch stop, with our final reading and an overall fuel economy of 24.03 kilometers per liter.
The other teams had better fortunes, as the Top Gear team of Mikko David and Marlon Dacumos racked up 1,347.8 km and a fuel economy of 24.73 km/l, while Team AutoReview with the father and daughter team of Ron and Reyra delos Reyes achieved 1,375.9 km at 25.47 kilometers per liter. It was, however, team TRS which bagged a whopping 1,432.3 kilometers, breaking the previously set record and achieving 25.9 km/l overall.
Some have asked why we did it. Was this just some PR stunt to get more attention for Ford and the Focus? Was it just to get some new names and a new car into some record book? Maybe, but there’s much more to it than that.
All I know is that as we drove from the southernmost to the northernmost tips of Luzon, we have seen the effects of man’s abuse of nature. Once green fields and prime farm lands have been reduced to dust bowls, thanks to the drought brought by El Nino. Manila and the northern provinces have been ravaged by heavy floods from Ondoy and Pepeng, respectively, and now, with the storm season once again upon us, I have to wonder how much more retribution mother nature is going to take on us.
Maybe the point of the drive may be to generate some more pages in a newspaper, a magazine or a website, it may have even been to sell more cars based on economy, but for us behind the wheels of those cars for 4 grueling days in May, we were doing more than that.
We were driving a point.