Menorca at the Clark International Speedway. Photo by Alo Lantin, ANCX
Drive Cars and Bikes

The girl next door (and behind the wheel)

Ever since returning from the UK as a Nissan GT Academy Finalist, Elysse Menorca has pursued a full-time career as a racecar driver.
Paolo Vergara, ANCX | Aug 29 2018

Since childhood, Elysse Menorca—part-time model, host, endorser, and full-time race car driver—was drawn to the console, and was an avid fan of action video games. Halo, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, name it. Her brothers got her into it. She dabbled in simulation racing, trying the early iterations of Gran Turismo—but it was her boyfriend and fellow racer, Quatro Adriano, who showed her its serious side.

Because of this rather unconventional training, the petite charmer started her racing career in less usual ways than the other aspirants who started by religiously clocking in the laps at sim racing through the years, purchasing the game’s latest versions.

Today, Menorca adheres to a steady routine alternating between mornings on the racetrack or working out. “I honestly still need to work on my weights training,” she says, referring to the arm strength required by professional drivers to control their cars at high speeds and sharp turns.

For this racetrack contender, anyone can push themselves or be pushed by necessity to learn any skill, hobby, or sport—but if the interest isn’t there, they won’t last in the field.

A most challenging experience was joining the Nissan GT (Gran Turismo) Academy Reality TV Show, today’s largest videogame-to-reality crossover event. After besting around 20,000 participants from all over the country, Menorca and five other Filipinos—including Adriano—flew to the UK to compete first with fellow Asians and then against the rest of the world for the title of GT Academy Champion. This was no small feat, given that the show included challenges that ranged from a battery of physical tests which included actual racecar driving. On camera, the contenders are captured looking bone-tired and grim, their bodies covered in grime and mud, while their eyes look on defeatedly, as though they’ve wrestled with angels. Qualifying for the event made Menorca something of a veteran.

Menorca in the UK special forces course. Photo courtesy of Nissan GT Academy

Since returning from the UK in late 2016, she decided to pursue racing full-time. Together with friends, she devoted time to building a professional motoring team, Ribbon Arc Motorsports, partnering with a car shop and employing the services of mechanics and engineers. Drivers get most of the screen time, but an ecosystem of many technical experts keeps the whole show going. Menorca was chosen to be the team’s flagship driver.

Ribbon Arc has since raced around the country, namely in Auto Cross time-attack racing, and in Touge Battles—a Japanese import where two cars duel nose-to-bumper in an open track. Right now, the fledgling team’s arsenal consists of a refurbished Corolla 1990, though Menorca hints that they’re planning to turn her Kia Picanto – “supposedly just for city driving” – into a racer.

Menorca and the Ribbon Arc team around their refurbished Corolla. Adriano stands by the engine hood. Photo by Alo Lantin, ANCX

This year, she is taking part in a more professional race, the annual Toyota Vios Cup, held over three separate weekends. Here, her driving services were tapped by a team other than Ribbon Arc, the Obengers Racing Team, a longtime Vios cup competitor. Her home team didn’t mind, as the experience would be a great boost to her driving skills, and to Ribbon Arc’s credibility as a whole.

Menorca is especially psyched about this race. “I like the Vios cup kasi we all have the same car, we have the same speed,” she says. “You just have to find a way to take the corner faster.” On even footing, with vehicles more or less of the same make, more or less maintained to the same standards, it becomes a test of pure skill. “When it comes to the routes we’re all the same. Anybody can step on the gas but not everybody can time the braking right or turn at the best angle.” However the race turns out, Menorca’s already a winner, taking life by the wheel, ready for the burn on the road and the next sharp turn.