Story and photo by JONAS REYES
OLONGAPO CITY — One of the most controversial stories in the history of Philippine automotive industry was the sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) that allegedly bedevilled the Mitsubishi Montero Sport sports utility vehicle.
Hounded by this dishonor in 2015, owners of Montero models, such as Francis Tornilla of this city, had a hard time driving his beloved SUV without someone bringing up the SUA topic. But this actually inspired Tornilla to modify his black Montero Sport and prove to everybody that the SUA was just a hoax.
He made his runs and documented them, marking his top speed then posting it on a Mitsubishi social media group page. Soon his video and documents of the runs made by his Montero piqued the interest of an owner of a Toyota Corolla small body. With an 4EFTE turbo-charged engine, the Toyota Corolla was roundly defeated by the 2.5 liter Montero Sport in the friendly race.
“This started my enthusiasm for drag racing, and almost every night I raced against Toyota, Honda, and other Korean and European cars on the streets. These cars included Genesis, Mercedes and the BMW 320D,” Tornilla said.
Participants in races like this tended to keep quiet about it, and only a few avid racers and spectators posted videos of races in social media. But one day, a friend invited Tornilla to join the National Drag Championship at the Clark International Speedway.
“At first, I was skeptical, since I was using a sport utility vehicle (SUV) as opposed to cars that were taking part in the race. And besides, I really didn’t have any idea what my time will be during my run at the quarter mile since I’m used to street drag racing,” he added.
But Tornilla pushed on with the idea and registered, with many racers thinking that he was just a spectator when he parked his SUV near the registration booth.
“Tumuloy ako, then noong nandoon na ako sa Clark Speedway, nang magpapa-register ako, napagkamalan akong magpa-park at manonood lang. Sabi ko sa marshall, ‘Mag-eentry po ako’.”
But the marshall replied that the Montero Sport was not allowed to participate since the race was purely for cars that run on gasoline.
Tornilla was persistent, stating that he only wanted to be clocked. Eventually the marshall agreed, pointing out that the lowest category was the Hotstreet Race.
Hotstreet usually runs cars that clock between 16 seconds to 17.99 seconds on a quarter mile. Tornilla was allowed with the idea that he won’t be able to refund his entry fee, for which he happily obliged.
The discouragement didn’t end there. As soon as he entered the pit for the time trial run, some guys began staring at him. “Pakiramdam ko, para akong pato na nakapasok sa sabungan (I felt like a duck that wandered into a cockpit arena),” he recalled.
The name stuck and Tornilla’s Montero Sport came to be known as the Black Duck. He knew that he can’t really blame those guys who gawked at him since he was running on Mud Terrains 285/70 tires with a lift of two inches from the usual stock height of the Montero Sport.
The race he got was against a Honda Civic Eg in the Sportsman Class that runs from 14 seconds to 15.99 seconds per quarter mile. “I won over that car and the video went viral. Almost 200,000 viewers saw the race with 2,000 shares and thousands of comments,” he said.
And that’s where everything took off—an SUV showing that it has the capability to go toe-to-toe with gasoline cars in national competitions.
During his rookie year as a drag racer, Tornilla and his Black Duck made history by becoming the first Drag Diesel Champion in the Philippines and becoming the first overall in the Race Wars Philippines.
“Many racers are still hoping to get to the podium, with some taking ten years in the racing industry, but I am blessed to be at the podium during my rookie year,” he said.