Interview – Don Pastor

Interview – Don Pastor

14.12.2017: Don Pastor is arguably the most famous and successful racing driver of the current Philippine generation, with many important wins not only in his native country but right across Asia as well as on the U.S. circuits.

Don Pastor is arguably the most famous and successful racing driver of the current Philippine generation, with many important wins not only in his native country but right across Asia as well as on the U.S. circuits.

He also has a lot of experience of competing with sophisticated, spaceframe V8 racecars so nobody is better placed to understand and extract the most from the new breed of TA2 machines.

During his day long test at Bira Circuit last week, Don (who alternated stints at the wheel of a Ford Mustang TA2 with his compatriot, Gabrielle Dela Merced) took time to recall his racing career and offer his initial impressions of the new machine, the first time he had driven the TA2 generation racecar.

So first to rewind back, how did he actually start out in motorsport? “I did a couple of weekends of karting in 2001 and after a few more weekends I tried out in the Asia Festival of Speed in The Philippines in 2002 in the touring car championship and I won the championship of that year,” he explains, noting that it turned out to be the perfect moment to announce his talent.

 “It just so happened that the same weekend the BMW factory touring car team were there to race in the Asian Touring Car Championship and they invited me to go to Spain to try out for the Formula BMW scholarship.”

This was a dream opportunity – and one readily Pastor seized with both hands. “I came out the quickest in the Formula BMW series for the try outs in Europe and they gave me a scholarship and I bought the car to buy into the series and I started my own team to do the entire 2003 season,” he says.

Suddenly he was racing a single seater across the continent. “I did pretty well, I came third in the championship and I got a couple of podiums and following that I did Asian Formula 3 in 2004.” That F3 drive came with the prestigious Tom’s Team Toyota and resulted in a win at the Goldenport Park Circuit in China.

“From then, 2005 onwards until 2009, I did the Philippines Touring Car Championship as my sponsors wanted me to go back into touring cars and I got the championship again in 2009 and they awarded me driver of the year FIA at national level,” Don says. That year proved very successful, netting the National Endurance Cup Championship title and set him up for his next career step – Stateside.

“In 2010 I started my racing school and I ventured to the U.S. in 2011,” he says. “I started driving for factory teams, doing Time Attack and some SCCA touring cars and doing GT cars.” It proved a successful couple of years as Don was the ‘Redline Time Attack Class Champion’ in 2012 and the ‘Global Time Attack Class Champion’ in 2013.

It also opened the door for him to try his hand at driving the big V8 beasts of the Euro NASCAR series. “I joined mid-way in 2013 in the Euro NASCAR series and I did pretty well back then,” he said.

“But it was just a try out and they gave me only 5 laps experience straight into qualifying so I had to learn the car in 5 laps in qualifying. I qualified I think twenty second and I finished in the top eleven.”

That opened up a new opportunity. “From that we decided to launch these V8s in Asia and call it the Asian V8 Championship in 2014.” The series took in four rounds, two each at Batangas Racing Circuit and Clark International Speedway – and was an instant hit with the fans, clearly a positive pointer as TA2 looks towards The Philippines.

From there family commitments required Don to take a break from motorsport. “I have stopped since 2014 until today,” he says. “So, the test with the TA2 today is basically me coming back into the sport.”

An experienced racer and with probably more cockpit time than anyone else in the region with big big V8 racecars, Don quickly blew off the cobwebs and was soon posting very representative laptimes.

It was also a benefit that he had raced here previously in Formula BMW, albeit more than a decade ago – a year that saw him learning the key tracks across Asia. “We did the entire tour that year,” he recalls.

 “We went to Autopolis in Japan, here in Thailand at Bira, we went to Indonesia, we went to Malaysia, both Sepang and Johore and we also did the races in the Philippines at Clark and Batangas.”

And he was quickly into the groove of the 2.4-km, 12-turn Bira Circuit, the long-time ‘Home of Thai Motorsport’, which in fact celebrated its 30th Anniversary last year. “Actually, it took me maybe one or two laps, but it came back to me, just like riding a bicycle, it’s the same, nothing has really changed,” Don reckons.

So, to the TA2, what were his first thoughts? “My impression is that it’s very, very easy to drive,” he enthuses. “Some people get off-guard when they hear of 550 or 600 horsepower with 500 torque, with numbers like that it seems like it will be a monster to drive but actually the TA2 has a very easy quick steer and with a paddle shift it’s not as tiring or as brute as I would have imagined it to be before, rather it’s actually like a GT2 or GT3 car it’s so easy to drive.”

Don pointed to the handling and grip which means it’s a very dynamic and forgiving racecar. “It has tons of grip so it’s very forgiving,” the 31-year-old says. “If the car gets unsettled out of a corner there’s so much you can do to save yourself from throwing a lap away, there’s not as much ground to make up for.

“It’s a beautiful car too, it’s so much more than I imagined in every area,” he adds.

TA2 Thailand plans to take in races at Bira Circuit during its inaugural season in 2018 so Don is well placed to offer an opinion on how these big and dramatic racecars can really be exploited on the tight and twisty confines of the Pattaya track.

 “Yes definitely,” he says, explaining, “Cars like this with this much amount of power and torque all you need to do is change the rear end and make the ratios fit for technical short tracks like this and you can also stretch it out and make it suitable for longer circuits, like the Formula 1 tracks such as Sepang.

“In testing today, it felt that with that amount of torque it’s so easy to drive on a technical course like this and I could image it would be even better on a longer track,” he adds. “So, it can definitely supply the demand needed for this kind of track.” Judging by the sizzling lap times Don as well as Gabrielle were very quickly turning in, the Ford Mustang TA2 is a very capable machine around Bira Circuit.

Don also hopes that his arrival in TA2 will open up a route for other drivers from The Philippines to follow in his footsteps, building firmly onto the legacy of the momentum that was started with the Asian V8 Championship.

“The Asian V8 Championship is a great stepping stone to TA2,” he says. “The reason why I’m joining TA2 is to also give motivation to Asian V8 drivers that they can graduate to TA2 with confidence.”

- Edd Ellison - also photo


14.12.2017 / MaP

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