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.

The Reckoning 

Last night I did not sleep well. Re-enacting yesterday’s events and to be fair not believing what I did. I disobeyed FIA rules and regulations by ignoring a flag during a race at the British GT Championship (one of the UK’s most spectacular racing serie) in front of 10,000 spectators, 15 people in Race Control watching 24 screens with replay capability and my peers.

I know the best way to go in for the judiciary is to let the team manager support the driver and deny everything point blanc, fight tooth and nail. It’s a dog eat dog situation. Induce doubt in the Clerk’s mind so as to lessen the penalty.

My wife and kids have already read me the riot act. It has been quite an exercice explaining to my kids what happened and I need to show them that we have to take responsibility in life.

I have sinned and I will take whatever comes my way; that is my destiny. I am at peace with myself.

Lesley, my wife is driving us to Brands Hatch. I have 2 races today. But I still don’t know whether I have a car ready to roll…but for now I need to see the Clerk for yesterday’s mishaps.

I walk into the Ginetta hospitality and recognise many faces waiting to be called in. Phil, Rob, Richard, Jack, Jon, Shawn…everybody is putting a brave face and nobody seems to know why they have been called in…I do!

Andy, the Chief Clerk is not in a good mood. John and I get called in, we watch the videos and Andy asks for comments. I step in, explain what happened and admit guilt. I apologise to John and we shake hands.

Judgement: 3 points on my license. I sign the paperwork and waive my right to appeal.

 I don’t feel good, I would rather go home now. Yet I know the worse is yet to come! 

I get called back by myself for the second offense – the serious one. Once again I explain without trying to dodge. For him either I did not obey, not see or not know what the flag meant. None of these lead to palatable outcomes. 

We talked about 3 subjects that annoyed him further:

1) Confusion: Some drivers saw the flag once, or twice, while others saw it up to 5 times. Drivers argued whether it was the number 15, 10 or both that were shown. David Holloway, number 15, thought he had been given the flag and lifted, then carried on… About 8 drivers asked me what the flag meant but that’s another story! Suffice to say, there was some confusion in Parc Fermé.

2) Rules: I could not understand why no other Marshall waved any flag at me. Incidentally the Blue Book (our rules and regulation’s Bible ultimately controlled by the FIA) also states that Race Control will communicate with the driver at the start/finish line. That sounds crazy as an unsafe driver can still legally race nearly 2 laps between the incident and exit in the pit lane.

3) Equal treatment: in Zandvoort, they allowed a competitor to race with a bonnet completely up, with strictly no vision; who went on to smash into another competitor. That event was deemed safe! I did not like to be told that every situation is different and that there are other rules in Holland. We all race under the same set of rules and regulations!

Yes I will take responsability, all I ask is to be treat fairly. My heart is pounding, there is no smile on my face; I am ready to hear the judgment:

  1. 3 points on the license
  2. a fine
  3. a deduction of 30 points in the championship, leaving me with a net -23 points for that race!
  4. a loss of rank by being pushed back to the end of the grid

This is the worst penalty given that I know of. I think it’s a bit harsh. I go for a walk and a think. Now I’m officially a criminal! Ray reminds me: Touché!

I remember the words of my skydiving instructor: small mistakes lead very quickly to a harsh reality if not stopped in time. Always remain calm in order to let your brain make the right call. How true…it will never happen again I swear to myself.

Being a referee is the hardest job there is. You always have people complaining and nobody thanking you. All the while, you are actually there to make sure that everybody has a good time and is safe. So I thank him for doing that job.

I take this opportunity to officially apologise to the clerk, marshalls and my peers.

fe582113 044b 40fe 8032 1a0a2dde52ba - The Reckoning 
Melvyn has repaired the bonnet, I’m grateful and Phil added his pizza box: Dominos. It’s funny but fails to make me laugh under the circumstances.

Living in Cloud cuckoo land – Race 1 to the finish

I restart the car and start racing again. While I gain some speed I listen for any untoward noises and look for anything abnormal. Apart from a flapping bonnet, the car looks good  and I think I can continue. But as soon as I break, the bonnet opens and impairs my vision. This is going to be a small problem in order to see (or more to the point, figure out) my apex and my track out point. I need to rely on my reference points and a very limited testing experience on this circuit of 1.5 days.

In other words, I don’t have a bloody clue where I’m going!

I must be living in Cloud cuckoo land! (Cloud cuckoo land refers to a state of absurdly over-optimistic fantasy or an unrealistically idealistic state where everything is perfect. It refers to someone who thinks that things that are completely impossible might happen, rather than understanding how things really are. And I hate to say, it also hints that the person referred to is naive, unaware of realities or deranged in holding such an optimistic belief.)

I always said I would be honest so here it is, vanilla without varnish … but be warned as we are clearly moving from Cloud cuckoo land to One flew over the cuckoo’s nest!

So here I go around the track once to see whether I should go in the pits or continue racing. At the end of the day, if I cannot catch anybody there will be little point in going around driving Miss Daisy.

Surprisingly I quite enjoy this new challenge and I am able to negotiate the corners quite well. I am no danger to myself or others. My decision is made, no one is going to stop me today.

As I get back on the straight, after less then one lap I see some cars. I am on the hunt…the tiger in me roars again.

img 0365 - Living in Cloud cuckoo land - Race 1 to the finishAppentlently Race Control issued the directive to show me the Black and Orange flag. Regulation clearly states this is a notification of apparent mechanical failure or of a fire which might not be obvious to the driver. The car concerned must call at its pit for repairs on the next lap. So it’s kinda important some would say!

I saw the black flag once for sure but then as the other marshals were not showing me any flag, I thought it must’ve been for somebody else or a warning of some sort not a call for action. My mind focuses on the racing again and chooses to forget anything else.

Remember I was dealing with an open bonnet, a large piece of my lights on track at the race finish line while driving at about 100 mph and trying to overtake at the same time; my mechanic who usually shows me my position from the pits, was also absent so I made the call not to look at all at the mechanics on the pit lane. Stupid decision number 3.

Saying that, I accept that all of the above are no excuse and it is clearly my responsibility to have complete control and awareness at all times.

For now this is a technicality as I continue racing and picking up places. And here I go again from the back of the field making my way up.

But this time I’m a gentleman, I don’t overtake unless it’s 100% sure, with room to take avoiding action or get off the line.

I overtake Surtees and give the place back by braking heavily because of lack of vision…and make my move later on. All in all I pick up 8 places to end up 14th.

The chequered flag is waved and I am quite proud of myself…you fool!

As I drive home and the adrenaline recesses in my system, reality makes a steady comeback and I say to myself: the Clerk is going to have you for breakfast in the morning…

Video link below:

Rebel without a cause – Race 1 Lap 1

The weather had turned in the morning, it had rained badly but the track is drying off now. The sky is blue with some clouds. Parts of the track are dry (the racing line) and the others wet. I will have to adapt and make a mental note of it although I never tested Brands Hatch in the wet. Bad decision number 4.

We line up on the grid. The pressure mounts, the light go off and I hit the throttle as quickly as I can.

Nothing happens for a while than the car decides to get out of bed! My hart is pumping. I am mad with myself for not checking yesterdays probable causes for the lack of ignition! Bad decision number 5.

screen shot 2017 08 09 at 12 41 43 - Rebel without a cause - Race 1 Lap 1

I am already last; this is where I live for most of the races this season for one reason or another.

With only one thing on my mind I implement my plan straight away and make some gains. I am up 3 places before the first corner is over.

I overtake Ben Low in between turn 1 and 2. I try to go around everybody on the hairpin and pick up another 2 places before turn 3. I even overtake Phil Ingram, who it has to be said, went strawberry picking! (To be fair he must of had a coming together with someone). I pick up another 2 places by turn 4. I am climbing up the ladder once again, it’s deja vu. We are back on the straight: breathe, say your mantras and focus.

Portlock defends well and slows me down. This gives Phil Ingram the opportunity to easily overtake me on the straight; I don’t block him and focus on the low hanging fruits in front of me.

Eight places up, one down. Not to worry I’m on fire! Or so I think…

Video link below:

 

Pole position, Numero UNO!

I present myself early for noise testing. We have been told that we will get into qualifications straight from the pitlane, so I go for the first spot ensuring that I will get a clear run until I get overtaken by a faster car. So far so good, I have a plan.

shot0002 - Pole position, Numero UNO!The qualification has started and we are racing frantically around the track. I push as usual without having the feeling of being effective. Speed can be deceiving, a fast smooth line can seem slow and vice versa. A red flag is shown and we get back in the pit lane.

I am shown the live timings with my name on top! No way!!! Is this gonna be my week-end? Should I check where the podium is? Stop dreaming!!!

The lights go green but my car does not start. Everybody goes and some mechanics push me. Thank you guys! The engine thinks about it … and finally fires.

Now I am following Guy and trying to find some space. I keep catching him, slowing down to create room before catching him again. This strategy does not work. Time is ticking. Finally I get a chance for one more lap. I push like mad down Paddock, -0.5 sec off my best! Good boy. Around Druids hairpin -0.68 sec. Go on boy… full steam ahead around Graham Hill Bend. I favour the middle line through the kink and just dab my brakes.

img 1263 - Pole position, Numero UNO!
You fool! I come around too fast and get my tyres on the grass thereby triggering the camera. This lap is disqualified for track limit violation. Bad decision number 3.

Time’s up. We get back in.

Am I in pole? Of course not! Even you did not believe it. As time goes on drivers push harder. The better ones get better times on their final lap. I qualify 12th. Not bad, even though I am disappointed with this result. I will need to implement my cunning plan: brave through Paddock Hill Bend (huge downhill) / and outbreak around Druids (hairpin) or in other words: go for a bungee and slide.

Getting ready

Unfortunately my mechanic Kevin took his leave for a private matter. There are more important things in life than racing. My thoughts are with him at this time.

So I turn up on my own at Brands Hatch for testing with a broken car, the damper needs to be changed. I keep thinking that the parts are badly made, but maybe we just push them too hard. Melvyn, Triple V’s mechanic, kindly steps in and sort me out in between jobs.

img 0355 - Getting ready
I have a good testing session and try attacking on Paddock Hill Bend on the inside line. Basically Paddock Hill Bend might be just the most impressive bend of all the UK circuits. Certainly memorable for the driver as well as spectators with as much overtaking as crashes or runs into the gravel.

I need to simulate tomorrow’s race and decide how far is too far…only one way, trying it! Well as you can imagine, it was a step too far and once committed you cannot change the car direction or speed until you reach the bottom. You might as well go for a cuppa and see what happens: straight in the gravel with a spin. Duly noted, I will not try that this week-end.

Now I need to get my hands dirty, the hoover out and remove all the gravel from the car and wheels. I think about changing the brakes and tyres but cannot be bothered…I think they are OK. That will prove a costly mistake, you cannot cut corners in this sport. Bad decision number 1.

So my strategy is set, be brave on this bend get some speed behind me and overtake on the next hairpin Druids. For Druids, I train different lines. I am getting better on the Indy circuit (the short version of the GP circuit) and although we will be racing the GP circuit, I still feel that I master the worst part quite well.

My friend David Holloway and even Phil Ingram seem slower in the first sector (not overall though). How funny! I have never been able to mach their times during a race and they are so far in the Championship that I need an altimeter to check where they are!

As Kevin is not with me, I had to drive the racing truck down myself and I am stranded at Brands. David kindly drops me to the nearest train station in order to make my way home. Tired and distracted I miss my connection and arrive home at 22:45.

I did not take a hotel to see my family over the week-end, but I will only be able to kiss them goodnight. As a result it’s a waste of effort, time and money. Bad decision number 2.

The next morning I have to drive all the way to Brands so I get up at 6:00 am.
You cant come to a race meeting tired, deep down I know it.

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.

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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!

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!

img 0300 - Map of a death trap

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