Right Seat Coach

Published in the August 2017 issue of “Die Porsche Kassette”

Ⓒ2017 Technolab / PedrosGarage.com

My Right Seat Coach                                    by Pedro P. Bonilla (GCR PCA)

Right Seat Coach

For more information on Porsches and more, please visit my website:  

www PedrosGarage.com.

Happy Porsche’ing,


One Saturday morning (it must have been 5:00 AM) he came into my room, woke me up and told me to quickly pack for three days and that I was coming with him.  I later learned that the previous evening his best friend and pilot of their dedicated rally car (a 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia ti) had been admitted to the emergency room and could not participate in the 2-day Rally of the Mountain III (Rally de la Montaña III) for which they had worked so hard prepping the car and doing all of the route calculations, etc. 

I got in the car with him as we headed down to the starting point of the race.  He was explaining to me how the tandem Heuer stopwatches and the Alpina hand-cranked calculator that were bolted on the dash worked. All the info was just going over my head.

Shortly after 8:00 AM we took the green flag and off we were!

Within the first 5 kilometers I had managed to get us lost.  My Dad stopped the car and got out. He paced for a few seconds and commanded: “Move over, you’re driving!”

All I could say was “Yes Sir!”.  With his total control of the navigation we quickly got back on-track and on-time without having lost any points.

It was a tough 2-day event crossing the high sierras of the Dominican Republic where we were living at the time.  Dad was the copilot now so he had his time/distance/speed calculations but he was also coaching/instructing me as well. The first day we finished a respective fifth overall but still close to 2nd, 3rd and 4th places in penalty points. Before going to bed I remember that he sat down with me for over an hour and we had a debrief just as in our karting days.  The next morning we took the green with much more confidence and finished the day 2nd overall giving us the 3rd place of the event due to the combined results of both days.

At the awards ceremony we were called to the podium and just before the 3rd place trophy was handed to us there was a commotion and everything stopped.  We got off the podium and about 30 minutes later the Chief Steward announced that there had been a disqualification and it was car number 7 driven by Pedro Bonilla and co-piloted by Pedro Bonilla Jr.  It was further explained that the fourth place car had protested.  The protest was declared valid.  They pointed out that according to the rules, any Rally pilot was required to have valid driver’s license and at the time I was about to turn 15 so I didn’t even have a learner’s permit.  The third place points and trophy were being stripped from us.  But then, something incredible happened.  Most of the other 192 participants (there had been 100 cars) got up and started chanting our names.  Many were upset at the now official 3rd place finishers telling them that “the kid” had beat them all and that they shouldn’t be sore losers.  In the end the organizers held the awards ceremony again and gave us the 3rd place trophies, but gave the points to the 4th place finishers.

That Rally has been one of the most memorable events of my life.

I was mostly into dirt bikes after that and then with college and later raising a young family most of my 4-wheel racing came to a halt for a while, although I had managed to keep a Porsche in my garage continually since my college days.

When Mondays were literally too painful due to the off-roading on the weekends, I gave up the bikes and started Autocrossing and DE’ing my ’98 Boxster.  That felt much better!

My Dad passed away 15 years ago but I still feel him sitting and instructing me from the right seat (even when there is no right seat) and I can swear than in more than one occasion he has physically intervened to save my behind when I’ve done something stupid at the track.

My Dad had been a successful Gentleman Racer in his younger days and that’s why I’m passionate about racing as well.  I remember riding with him to some of his races.  Back then you drove your car to and from the track! 

I was awed by, and still remember looking at, the speedo in his car which had a max speed indication of 300 KPH.  His car of choice at that time was a 1958 Mercedes Benz 300SL Roadster.  He had traded in his 1954 300 SL Gullwing for the Roadster because the latter was lighter.

With his help, I got into karting at a very young age and Dad and I had a lot of fun tinkering with what was then a new fad.  We modified and greatly improved the brakes, the clutch, the engine and tweaked it after every race with what we had just learned.  Just before every race we would have a strategic meeting and after the race a debriefing, going over my best and worst moments of the race.

I got to be pretty good at it, eventually winning two consecutive National Championships in the DR.  Dad, as an engineer, studied the intricacies of 2 cycle expansion chambers and got so immersed in it that he designed and hand-made a different one for my kart for each track!

But as good as that was, the times I spent together with my Dad in a car, or better yet, in a racecar were the best.

He taught me how to drive a stick by age 10.  I couldn’t reach the pedals, so he built wooden extensions for me.  Every time there was a chance, he would let me take the wheel and I was quite experienced by age 12.  We would go drive in abandoned dirt roads where he taught me to drift the car into the turns mainly using the handbrake since our ride was a very underpowered DKW 3=6 with a 2-cycle, 3 cylinder engine probably making 50 HP.

So why do I drive Porsches when my Dad was such an MB aficionado?

Well, in 1960 he was at Sebring to watch how the mighty (privateer) #81 Mercedes SL 300s was going to dominate the race.  Instead it and every other car in the field got beat by a car half their weight and half their engine size: the little Porsche 718 RS60.

My Dad sold his Black-on-Red 1958 MB 300SL Roadster right at the track and ordered a Porsche 550.  Since then it was always Porsches at the track!

MB sole entry at 1960 12 Hours of Sebring

That’s my Dad on the left, in late 1959 practicing at Sebring.

51 years after the day he sold this car, I had the chance to make this tandem photo to honor him in my own way.

I tried to find the same spot and “parked” next to him.

Everything turned out reversed by chance:  The colors of the cars, our clothing and the fact that I could have been his father.

He was 32 in the photo while I was 59.

Gracias, Papá!

I miss you every day!