Risk of catching fire

We go out for our green lap and I don’t feel a stranger in my car. I haven’t sat in it since the last race but now my whole focus in on the track. Learn it, learn it quick Karim! Forget the qualifications, imagine you are in a test day. Don’t push but feel the car. Today is another huge grid. With 33 competitors eager to finish the season on a high.

My objective: survival…and not be last!

Within the first laps, my engine starts smoking…badly. There is a red flag and we gather in the pits. My mechanic has a look under the bonnet and calls the Marshall’s to help push the car aside. I risk catching fire, there is oil all over the burning hot engine…The qualifications are over for me. No track time for me once again.

Kevin, my mechanic, tells me that he has not opened the oil cap and I believe him; he is not the type of guy to brush his responsibilities under the carpet. Has someone tampered with my car or is a curse following me; whatever it is they will not be able to get rid of me that easily!

Still, I’m annoyed. I get to my truck and go online to check whether I will race later on. I need a minimum of 3 full laps to qualify.

img 0369 - Risk of catching fire
I am in!!! 3 laps only but that’s enough. 22nd out of 33…it’s not that bad, considering I had 8 minutes of track time in Donington Park.

Living on a knife’s edge

Donington is our final race. Everyone is going to push a bit more so I decide to prepare well and book some track and test days with an instructor. Nothing will be left to chance.

img 0368 1 - Living on a knife’s edgeThen the first bad news falls, my instructor cancels on me…and my mechanic follows. Not to worry I shall be a big boy and decide to go on my own.

My trackdays are booked and I look forward to them.

Now work is calling on my door and the trackdays disappear one after the other. I have one left and like in the movies as I am putting my overnight bag in the car, ready to go, I get an email. I am needed tomorrow (Friday eight days ago), a calendar confusion with a potential customer eliminates my last chance of getting some much needed tracktime.

My race car gets back into the parking spot, while I get my suit on. Unfortunately the friendly valet forgets to switch the engine completely off.

Yesterday afternoon was all about trying to get the car to start, so that I don’t end up at the track not being able to race.

This morning I am going to qualify while discovering the track! It’s technical, with positive and negative cambers, fast flowing downhill turns and greasy in hairpins. My competitors are laughing at my lack of preparation. But this is a hobby not a profession for me; therefore customers will always come first.

I will not let it phase me…I will race today, I will give it my all.

I look on the bright side; and catch the glitter of a knife’s edge shining in the corner of my eye.

Red light district 

We get onto the grid. The lights are on red. Literally a second later they go off! Unbelievable, usually we get a 5minute board and a countdown. I have a false start, never mind, to late to complain, focus, drive, race! I block McGarthy who was trying to sneak on me.

img 1215 - Red light district 

26 seconds into the race as we approach Brave corner dust rises into the air…something is up. Half a second later Wager is spinning in the middle of the track maybe 3 car lengths in front of me. Fleming avoids him in extremis; I am already on his tail. He has claimed the rest of the track and has 2 wheels on the grass.

img 0350 - Red light district 
My last 2 accidents flash in my mind…not again! My heart is pumping like crazy. I take the grass, it feels like skiing. I’m not traveling fast but I have no grip with the ground. I am watching my own race slo-mo in my head. I must be very careful to slowly brake and turn the car. Nothing sudden or I will spin into running cars and the concrete wall ahead. Don’t accelerate through the high kerb or your car will be in pieces. No don’t brake either… Balance, awareness and finesse are required here. You can do it, rejoin the track but not across the kerb or the car will not make it, I already told you!!!

img 0351 - Red light district 
By the skin of my teeth I get back onto the tacmac unharmed. I’ve survived the incident but find myself at the back of the pack. Again!!! At that stage am I 20th? 22nd? Who knows? Who cares? Are the other drivers conspiring to take turns and spin in front of me? Do I just attract bad luck?

No, in my heart I know that I need to get quicker, to move beyond the mid pack as to avoid being in a tussle in every race. This is deja vu, I need to perform some stunts to get back up. Frustrating, challenging but so much fun!  Come on wake up! Be wild! The long hard climb to Mount Everest is upon me.

Wager is behind me and hungry, so am I. Once again I have nothing to loose, be at your best Karim, I say my mantras, relax my mind and get into the zone.

I make a few overtaking moves and I am happy with the progression. Last time I saw Kevin’s board he was indicating 10 / P14. 10 for my car number and P14 for my position in the race. I still have plenty of time to grab a few places.

9’25” the Yellow flag is out. Great I think, I’ll catch up with the pack ahead and that will make it easier for me.

I see Guy’s car in the wall, it looks pretty smashed up. I hope he’s alright.

img 0330 - Red light district 
Unfortunately we finish the race under Yellow flag…disappointing! Butterfly and I are unharmed and live to fight another day.

Zandvoort Race 1 final checks

The track has dried and I’m pumped! After telemetry review I believe that I have a power issue…even though I enter corners at a higher speed, some competitors seem to be quicker on the following straights. We need to find out where this comes from. The throttle not opening fully? The engine not producing enough power? Too much toe dragging the tyres? The list goes on…Kevin is on hand, I trust him and let him do his Job. Between you and I, maybe I’m not exiting the corner well enough.

I remember this morning’s high tech drivers briefing. That’s my job.461f7ad2 10de 4d80 ba73 12332390463c - Zandvoort Race 1 final checks

The race control managers tells us that they don’t bother about track limits. They have no sensors for determining whether we are going beyond the kerb. “We will not give you any points on your licence, not even a time penalty because I’m a lazy bastard!” he says. And there is a reason for that. He begs us: “please try it! In that corner you will be fired against the wall, in this corner your car will not survive…please try it, it makes for fantastic viewing! This will be your penalty”. We laugh while grinning our teeth. It’s funny how you can get our attention so easily! I love the Dutch, they always make a point with a smile, no shouting, no swearing while leaving you in control of your destiny!

Now the preparation is over

The forecast has changed. Ares was fighting Uranus as storms and thunder got louder and heavier through the night. The track will be wet, cold and green for qualification. I wonder what the best setup for the car is…I can’t get anywhere near my times from yesterday.

img 0343 - Now the preparation is overThe track feels slippy but the top five are able to maintain the speeds from yesterday. Come on Karim, stop looking for excuses and get on with the job at hand.

Then a red flag. Someone went off. I refocus. A few minutes left on the clock maybe 1 or 2 laps at the most. I decide to push more. I can’t afford to crash my car again, there will simply be no time to mend it. Caution! I push but not too much and qualify 11th.

img 0344 - Now the preparation is over

Yesterday I was doing the time the guys between 5-10th are doing…everything is to play for…at least on paper! I can’t wait.

Map of a death trap

The circuit is unbelievable, thrilling, dangerous, a mixture that sucks you in.

Every corner has a pitfall, a concrete wall, no run off, an indulation, a camber, a gravel pit, an oval…there is just no time to relax the mind!

img 6805 - Map of a death trap
At the end of one of the longest straights in motor racing the famous Tarzan hairpin offering fantastic overtaking possibilities. The victor often decided by who dares break the latest…without running into the gravel!

img 0301 - Map of a death trapAfter a set of fast flowing lines you arrive at a very challenging and technical turn. Drivers need to be able to trail brake, balance the throttle and picture the road ahead even though it cannot be seen! Spectators can see some on the limit driving here. A concrete wall right on the edge of the track gives you no option for mistakes. I call it the Brave corner.

Then you pick up high speed and head towards a crest, the track is unseen until you get there, you just got to trust it’s going to be alright!

Then there is Scheilak, a corner to rank amongst the greats with Eau Rouge and Paddock Hill: seriously fast and technically challenging.

And what about Audi S where spectators will see the opposite. Kerb crashing is the order of the day as drivers strive to straighten this fussy corner. Overtaking is difficult but spinning is not.

It’s a death trap but as you race there you’ve never felt more alive!

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img 0322 - Cool town Zandvoort

Cool town Zandvoort

Zandvoort seems a nice sleepy beach town. You arrive at the circuit smiling and relaxed. Actually it is very welcoming with many signs worthy of British humour. 

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Rules are very relaxed too. Dogs allowed in the paddock and we have a driver’s briefing on the deck in the sun. For this open pit lane test day the drivers are allowed to overtake without consent left and right and outbreak people! 

The casualties during testing start climbing as a number of cars are badly smashed.

I see Ron Lynn having his first off in two years: The God of the black stuff has fallen!

My times keep improving, I’m in a good place. I am getting ready to race in the British Race Festival.

img 0322 - Cool town Zandvoort

The morning after

We arrive at the driver’s briefing at 8:30. All the drivers are already suited, I’m still in my jeans. We are supposed to be in the Assembly area at 9:15. This is going to be close.

The Clerk starts his speech by telling us that they will be 24 exclusions! Each of these drivers would get a further 4 points penalty on their license for racing under yellow flag and endangering the lives of Marshall’s on track. You could hear a pin drop. This was no joke.

The day before a number of cars went onto the grass, crashes and stayed stranded on track. Race Control did not stop the race but placed it under Yellow Flag condition. The rules are clear on the matter: speed must be reduced, total control must be maintained, strictly no overtaking and duty of care must be given.

The MSA representative got the footage for wrong lap / sector. A huge commotion ensued and the communication was poor, eventually the race was canceled.
Many drivers believed, in their desperate defence that the race should of been Red Flagged (meaning that all drivers must make their way back to the pits without delay).

This misses the whole point. Yes communication and management could and should be improved. But regardless of any technicalities, there must be no room to endanger people’s lives – SIMPLE!

img 0310 - The morning after
As drivers, we need to stop and look at ourselves, have the courage to be humble, sorry and learn. I saw none of these qualities that day.

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