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Day 2: Morning

A black-and-yellow capsule, resembling a giant wasp’s body on wheels, sputters noisily along the tarmac in bright sunshine. It is among a handful of cars already warming up on the track at Luneta Park. By 8.30am 23 cars out of 105 registered had passed technical inspection. More will soon follow.

“We failed yesterday but were working to fix our horn and seatbelt last night,” says DK Najah Damia, assistant manager for Team PLM Alpha 2.

They are the only all-girls team at the event, with a battery-electric-powered Prototype. “We want to show that girls can do just as well as boys!”

An all-girls team from Brunei will show the boys how it’s done

An all-girls team from Brunei will show the boys how it’s done

It’s official

Practice sessions pause as cars line up together behind the start line. Former Philippines president and current Manila mayor Joseph Estrada releases them with a wave of his flag, marking the official competition start.

Guests who had gathered in Rizal Park then held a minute’s silence to remember the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. As the national anthem played everyone turned to face the Rizal monument, built to commemorate the Filipino nationalist José Rizal.

National pride is high among the students, who draped flags over themselves and their cars to keep off the sun. Team Horas Usu has covered its car body with an intricate red and mauve swirled pattern called Gorga Batak.

“This symbolises our culture,” says team member Adventus Patar Silalahi. 

A professional approach

 As cars move around the track, 16 closed-circuit cameras are watching their every move. Retired F3 champion Pepon Marave is the Race Director responsible for on-track safety. His staff are closely watching monitors, poised to respond to any potential problem.

“It’s set up just like a professional circuit,” says Pepon. “The main difference is that the drivers aren’t professional!”

Strict rules are in place. These include no overtaking on corners and using the horn when overtaking elsewhere on the track. Drivers who violate the rules receive a warning and could be disqualified. Twenty-six marshals surround the 1.2 km length of the circuit, leaping into action if a driver gets into trouble. The most common problem is stalling. Drivers have 30 seconds to try restarting their car before marshals lift them off the track to safety.

For those who manage to complete 10 laps, officials check how much energy or fuel they have used and calculate the equivalent per kWh or per litre.

SEM Asia 2014

Playing catch up

Egyptian students from Team Asu Racing are first-timers. Their petrol-fuelled Prototype car is called Siraj, which means strong source of light. Finally shaking off the jetlag, they are starting to feel more confident. “We hope other Egyptian teams will follow the light!” says Mohamed Elwy, team manager.

All eyes will be on Team Luk Jao Mae Khlong Prapa from Thailand, who achieved the greatest distance in the last two competitions. But they have not had an easy start this year. Their flight to Manila was cancelled and they lost a day – only to fail technical inspection on the first attempt.

“It’s been quite messy for us,” says team advisor Narongdech Keeratipranon. “But we passed second time and are finally ready!”