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How far can you go on a liter of gas»

He is known for high-speed driving. That?s probably why officials of Honda Cars Philippines...

He is known for high-speed driving. That?s probably why officials of Honda Cars Philippines, Inc. (HCPI) never invited him even once to participate in their annual races for the media. For them, Pocholo Ramirez is a pro and no media racer can ever win against him even if he drives with no eyeglasses on.

But Ramirez is not just a fast driver. He is also a hell of an efficient driver. As a proof, he just registered probably the highest mileage this country can ever hear of from a production car.

The 68-year-old racer, known as the dean of Philippine motorsports, surprised even himself when he logged 49.68 kilometers on a liter of gas in the Honda Eco-Challenge held last Saturday in Batangas.

The event was HCPI?s second econodriving event. The first was held five years ago from Manila to Pampanga and back. During the event, the cars were filled with gas, then the fuel lid sealed for the run. At the end of the course, the car is again brought to the gas station to be filled up. Whatever gas is pumped into the car in the second gas station is deemed equal to the amount consumed during the run.

Having no experience in econodriving, or the sport of driving for fuel efficiency, Ramirez simply did what he thought was the right thing to do when he got behind the wheel of the Honda Civic VTi-S automatic. He turned off the aircon off, closed all windows, stepped lightly on the accelerator and glided almost through the entire 55.1-kilometer stretch between the Petron station in South Expressway and the Malarayat golf club in Lipa City.

He was never expecting to win, though. In fact, when he was informed of his victory, he merely laughed, especially when he heard of his mind-boggling output.

"I thought it was a joke," he said. "I told them, ?C?mon, stop kidding me. Nobody could register something like that.?"

Ramirez?s reaction was shared by everyone, especially by the motoring journalists who are, by nature, skeptics. Who would have thought a bigger Civic with a 1600cc engine would have a more fuel-efficient performance than a Honda Insight, a hybrid car that runs on both gasoline and electricity.

The Insight was tested in Thailand in August and in normal driving from Bangkok to Chiang Mai ? a 2,000-km trip ? it set an average of 43.71 km/liter mileage. It was the best performance for a compact sedan in the region.

Since its introduction in Japan in November 1999, the Insight has been hailed by authorities as one of the most efficient cars in the world. It topped the US Environmental Protection Agency?s (EPA) list in efficiency, averaging 70 miles/gallon or about 29 kilometers to a liter.

But comparing the Insight to the Civic is like comparing an apple to an orange. With an all-aluminum body, the Insight?s weight is just a fraction of the Civic?s. And even without its 10kW electric motor that takes over when the car reaches cruising speed (which makes it save on gas), the Insight?s 1000cc, three-cylinder gasoline engine is a sissy compared to the Civic?s 1600cc, four-cylinder three-stage VTEC powerplant.

To the skeptics, these figures make Ramirez?s feat all the more unbelievable. Driving skill
So if it?s not the car, then to what should we attribute the setting of the 49.68 km/liter record? Well, there is no doubt that it should be to Ramirez?s driving prowess.

Contrary to popular belief, Ramirez was not born with a heavy right foot. "I never stomp the gas pedal, I just squeeze it," he often tells young racers asking for advice. "And I drive with a lot of anticipation, knowing what?s ahead of me so I never waste the car?s momentum. I always aim for smoothness."

Ramirez drives a 1600 Toyota Corolla for work everyday. Even though the car has a TOM?S body kit, it?s engine is still the same as those in other, less mean-looking Corollas on the road.

True, he drives fast. His regular trip to Subic from Manila ? which a 120-km distance ? takes only a little over an hour. That?s on regular time, with the traffic and all. Yet to prove that his right foot is considerably light, he still averages about 10 km/liter on his daily drives.

In last Saturday?s event, Ramirez said he did nothing extraordinary, except turn the aircon off (which one never does under the blazing sun) and drive a little slower than usual. Oh, yes, he drove with extra care, always thinking of his goal to save on gas.

"My foot on the gas was as light as feather," he said. "I really made sure I wouldn?t go beyond 2000 rpm. It was like driving with the gas fast running out. I had to be conscious of everything that?s happening in and out of the car."

Since the Civic he drove had an automatic transmission, Ramirez revved the engine just a little to shift from first to second gear. Then after about five seconds, he revved it up again to shift to third, then on to fourth and stayed there all throughout.

He rarely stepped on the brakes, he said. It was a habit has formed in his 38 years of racing. "I was anticipating everything, so when I knew I would have to stop, I slowed down to a crawl so I wouldn?t have to accelerate from a complete stop. Stop-and-go driving wastes fuel," he recalled.