Extraordinary conditions call for extraordinary measures

Something extraordinary happened before the qualifiers for the Silverstone GP. I asked Mike to perform one more check on the dampeners and he found them out and uneven. In a race, this sort of mishap can easily materialise into an accident or a spin due to loss of control. I left the car in SVG Motor Sport’s workshop in perfect condition and, at least from this end, it looks like someone fiddled with it. Did this really happen? Does someone want to hurt me? Distressed and worried, I relied on my experience to pull myself together. What do I do when I need information? The Deming cycle(*) came to mind, but with such little time before the race, there was no time to act!

My mind was already on overdrive! I tried to walk it off, work through my emotions and cleared my head for a while.

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Getting some headspace, shhhh

 

Generally, it was a nice day for qualifiers and my performance didn’t suffer as much as had I expected. I actually finished 8th. Now, I was making plans to break into the top 5 and show some of those guys my rear bumper. But Mother Nature didn’t follow through. Right before the race, during the green flag lap(*), it literally started pouring.

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Karim Sekkat (GBR).

I trained on dry track, following my line to the dot, and instead of pushing through the competition, I was faced with entirely new conditions. I had to rethink my whole strategy. The big boys upfront know what to do, for me its another first.

I focused as much as possible on getting a feel of the grip, continuously testing to determine where it’s best to be, but I just couldn’t get into my comfort zone. My start was horrible yet again. Tamsin was trying to overtake me while I was dancing in front of her. Normally, I would have picked up the pace and given her a run for her money, but then I was just focused on getting some grip. And just when you think it can’t get worse, it does – the windscreen heater stopped working right at the start. I didn’t recall anyone telling me the windscreen heater had a 10 minute kill switch. Faced with no visibility, a 20 minute race under these conditions is a lifetime on track.

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Front windscreen visibility could be improved!

I decided to sacrifice power for visibility and safety, so I turned on the A/C. Guess what? That wasn’t working either. At that point, Ginetta technology was on the receiving end of my anger. The race became a hectic struggle between maintaining traction and trying to gain any sort of decent visibility. The furthest I could see through the windscreen was… the wipers frantically going left-right.

I resolved not to give up. In a desperate attempt, I opened my side window hoping to see something. Not a chance, race cars weren’t meant to be driven looking out the side window. I got into a spin, but my reflexes helped me avoid the gravel. For a while, I was even going backwards and, to my surprise, I was quite good at manoeuvring the car. A couple drivers passed me and I dropped down a few spots. I turned around, pushed the car as much as I could and, before I knew it, I was contending with them for my rightful place. Then, another 360 spin – maybe, at least, the spectators had a blast.

Overall, I kept watching through the side-window, hoping to see the apex(*) of every corner and adjust my trajectory, I kept praying not to lose grip in fast angles and I even locked the wheels a few times at high speeds because I was pushing the car too much. In the first lap, I was constantly overdriving, frustrated with the lost spots at the start of the race. I found my comfort zone in the second lap, but I was still overdriving. This time, I was hoping to catch up. My speed would have put me in an acceptable 7th spot, yet the mishaps made it so that I finished 14th.

Nonetheless, I’m happy to be alive after everything that happened. The second round of the Silverstone GP was cancelled due to an unexpected torrential rain flooding the track. The timing couldn’t have been better, as I was adamant to go on dry settings!

Also, thank you for your advice, Mike.

sekkat 10 - Extraordinary conditions call for extraordinary measuresAs it turns out, there’s a big price to pay when I don’t listen to you, but it was a heck of a day!

I cherish my family’s support every step of the way – thank you my girls!

As it stand I now rank 10th after 3 races. Still as determined as always…

And as always, I invite you to take some time and think about the children who can benefit from the SOS Children’s Villages foundation. Let’s all pitch in and make things better for them!

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Thank you Jacob Ebrey for the photography.

(*) Control circle: better known as PDCA (plan–do–check–act or plan–do–check–adjust) is an iterative four-step management method used in business for the control and continuous improvement of processes and products. It is also known as the Deming circle/cycle/wheel, Shewhart cycle, control circle/cycle, or plan–do–study–act (PDSA).

(*) Green flag lap: awareness lap run prior to the race, at pace of about 50-60mph to allow one viewing of the track conditions prior to racing.

(*) Apex: The apex or clipping point is the innermost point of the line taken through a curve. The apex is often, but not always, the geometric center of the turn. Hitting the apex allows the vehicle to take the straightest line and maintain the highest speed through that specific corner. It is often near the tightest part of a corner.

 

Overcoming challenges, an everyday task

Over the past weeks, life has confronted me with some difficult personal issues, which is why I was unable to post as usual. Suffice to say that bereavement touches us in different ways and that we each have to find a means to work through our grief. Personally, I tend to focus on my family and try to be there for them, help alleviate the pain and make things bearable.

Solace never comes easy. Still, my character urged me to push on, so I decided not cancel my last training at Silverston GP. Although I nudged my emotions in the background, my body was still on the edge from too little sleep. I had many nights with little sleep and a lot of stress, driven for 230 miles leading up to the drill sessions. And it showed on track.

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Karim Sekkat (GBR).

In just one day, I have had more spins, off tracks and near misses with aggressive drivers than I’ve had in my whole racing experience so far. Drivers in powerful cars were going in headfirst, lunging, diving and then braking or losing control, all the while snapping my line. With a few minutes left before the lunch break, I veered off into the gravel. Kindly, Mike jumped to my aid and urged me to get some much needed rest. In the meantime, he took out the hoover and got “down and dirty”. His attitude and support always lifts me – thank you, Mike! In perspective, this was a minor incident. Overall, it was incredibly dangerous on the track and it was my reflexes and experience behind the wheel that kept me out of much bigger trouble.

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Karim Sekkat (GBR).

And I wasn’t the only one who thought so. The race controller sent many home because of their recklessness. Then, he called a second drivers briefing and, boy, did he have a temper! Amidst shouting and swearing, I could discerned some english words. He was saying that it’s been the worse day he’s had in 26 years and added that whoever caused another red flag could f*** off and go home. No restraints. F this and F that and F some more… He even had a special mention for Ginetta drivers… Someone wanted to show us the way out, he cleared his head and left us shaking. He mentioned the international and national champions present, one of whom, by the way, took it upon himself to underline how he agreed and felt. Quite possibly, we were taken aback maybe even a little scared but as soon as we hit the tarmac, adrenaline fuelling, what can I say! Mike told me he saw almost a dozen of radicals pulled over – Aston Martins taken off track, etc. Maybe it was best they came back another day. If I find the time, I’ll try to upload some video of the spins and the general chaos.

There were also a few Ferraris, AMG’s, Aston Martin’s on track. And with their great power comes great responsibility… on my end. I was literally screaming at them as I had to constantly break to avoid accidents. Some training that was. Jay Kay was also among them, in his Ferrari but I decided I couldn’t put up with it anymore. I overtook him singing Virtual Insanity!

This way, I could at least get some spare moments to work on my lines in preparation for the next race. img 8620 - Overcoming challenges, an everyday taskLewis Hamilton’s brother and father were out as well, but other than that, nothing noteworthy happened.

In the evening, I was alone again with my sadness. I tried to wash it away and forget the tiredness and the turmoil of the briefing. I did survive it, after all. I was not content with my performance, so I tried to constantly improve, but it seemed that my body had had enough. In quick succession, I managed to explode the crammed plastic bin on myself, misplaced my phone and then put it in the wash. It stayed in there for 4 minutes. Afterwards, I overran my bath while in it and forgot the oven on! At least the phone still worked. It was definitely time to lay down for some rest…

No matter how difficult things are for us or how sordid the near future might seem, it’s imperative that we acknowledge others have to face much, much more than we do. In light of this, consider making a contribution for the children from SOS Villages.tpa picture 60612 twitter - Overcoming challenges, an everyday task

Rules and emotions

Sorry for the delay everyone, we’ve been struggling with some technical complications lately. Although we do have 2 on-board cameras, I’m not allowed to publish the videos due to copyright issues. I know a lot of you were interested in getting a first-hand account of my experience behind the wheel and what it feels like on the track. Additionally we are given the driver’s poscreen shot 2016 05 13 at 11 50 26 - Rules and emotionsints and rankings but are forbidden to publish them. But so far its easy to guess that if I qualified 7th and arrived at both races 7th, I must be ranked…

I want nothing more than to oblige you. You’ve been there for me every step of the way and your energy got me through some of the most stressful and challenging moments. For this reason, we’ve taken a good crack at the issue, but there’s just no way around it – it’s an obscure and bewildering set of rules and regulations, legal ramifications and ethical boundaries we have to respect.

At least there’s nothing stopping us from peaking at the Race Clerk’s report and Official Ginetta Cars Bulletin, which reads as follows: a total of 6 incidents were investigated during the Rockingham Circuit, no further action taken. One under review was when Rob forced me off track limits at full speed. I will remember that one for a while!

Sadly, in another incident, one of the protagonists was Simon with…Rob Morgan. Simon’s car got into a speed wobble near the wall, right before the finish line. Rob did not break – risking all for glory! Wrong choice he took himself and Simon off the track in the process.

As he was walking away from his wrecked car, I saw Rob grinning from side to side and couldn’t help but give him a big bear hug and strong words of encouragement. Despite the circumstances, he could still see the silver lining of what happened – they were about 100 meters from the chequered flag! His good humour and spirits always get to me, which is why I’ve nicknamed him the Kamikaze of 2016 GRDC series. img 8550 - Rules and emotionsHe’s earned his credit among the drivers twice over – once with his attitude and then again when he proved to everyone that he’s not going to give up as long as there’s a blade of grass he can hold onto (or a piece of fibreglass!). If there’s someone that fights to the very end, it’s him. Aggressive but fair on the track, generous and friendly off the track (at his expense, he offered me his car for testing when he saw my situation). Rob, you’ve definitely earned my respect. I hope not to see you on the track at Silverstone – cause you will be too far back ;o)

kas 7281 - Rules and emotionsI’d like to thank you for your continued support – Mike Alder for his continued help and advice, Salim for coming, bringing well-wishes with him and flying the Moroccan flag, my family and friends, the Ginetta racing team and, of course, my fan club that now spans over 18 countries in 4 continents.

Since starting this blog a month ago, we’re getting over 500 views/visitors so join the fun if you haven’t already! Even though we can’t all finish first, we can all chip in a little, donate to the SOS Villages program and make sure that a child in need receives the attention they deserve. These contributions make us all winners!

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some training to do…

The Rookie’s first week-end at the races

In retrospect, last Friday was one of my toughest struggles yet. Imagine the last 24 hours before a great challenge in your life. You’re completely focused, running possible scenarios and solutions. What you are not thinking about is what would happen if you didn’t even get a shot at it. I can barely describe the frustration that I felt when the car broke down even before getting to Rockingham. Not your typical Friday… but never mind that. I figured it’s more useful to channel my annoyance and stress towards Saturday; maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll fix it or, at least, I’ll get into a car with a new set-up. Not ideal, but it would have to do.

In the meantime, the Ginetta gang completely stripped out the dashboard and inside of the cockpit. For a while there, I was stunned by what they were doing – basically taking the car apart piece by piece. Still, I trusted them and I knew there’s a reason they were doing this. From what I gathered, the problem was with the chassis loom, a set of intricate wires that connects dashboard functions and controls with their associate mechanisms. You can think of it as the cable that connects steering to the wheels, only that it’s slightly more complicated and other functions are also routed through the chassis loom.

enlight1 - The Rookie's first week-end at the racesSo a new chassis loom was brought from Leeds. While this one was getting installed, I missed my learning sessions and the pressure was mounting. At this point, I was genuinely making an effort to control my stress, which, as it turns out, is pretty difficult when you have nothing to do. Oh, and did I mention that the track layout also changed? If something could have gone wrong, it would. But Saturday was a new day, my first qualification! Regardless of the obstacles, I resolved to not give up. The mere fact that I was able to get behind the wheel and participate was a delight. At long last, things were up to me and I felt that I was regaining control over my fate.

I qualified 7th with my best lap time 1:44.

Still, my troubles were far from over. As per my training, at the start of the first race, I was waiting for a green light that basically never came. The other drivers were also more aggressive than I thought and it took a while for me to get a feel of what they’re like on the track. Sadly, this slow start cost me three places. Nevertheless, I wasn’t out yet. I found my balance and focused on the lines – I can do this. After the long straight, I jumped ahead of the driver in front. I had plenty of initiative, so I wanted to push a little harder, but there was a big risk, yet again. I had to hit the brakes hard going into the hairpin. Because of the violent deceleration, the tires started burning a little, giving out quite a bit of smoke. The tension just jumped a notch. The car was under just as much pressure as I was. Three laps later, I gained another position by luring the competitor ahead of me into a trap. I faked an overtaking maneuver and got him to defend against my pressure by changing his line.

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He was forced to move to the inside of the curb. Right then, I floored it and got ahead on the other side. My heart was one beat short of bursting out of my chest as we were going into the chicane. It took a bit of effort to regain the spots I unwillingly conceded, but it was worth it, since it got me to push my limits. At the end of the race, I made it 7th, just 4 seconds behind Ron Linn. The major surprise was the time I managed – 1:42, my fastest performance yet.

I was thrilled to get into the second race this afternoon. Big props go out to my wingman, Mike, whose energy and support kept me and my car together. Pushing me harder, slowing me down and keeping me focused at the right time.

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I’m also very thankful to my Moroccan and wider fan club, to my family. Your cheers and encouragements and messages lend me strength. Seeing the Moroccan flag flying in the wind gave me wings.

Race 2, I was so eager at the start of the race, my car stood still while the tires where spinning and burning giving me no traction. The car started dancing the Salsa and I nearly created an incident. While performing for the crowds, I just lost 4 places. Not again!

No more excuse, I regained 1 place going into the first hairpin. A battle of wits and courage ensued with Rob Morgan. I overtook him twice, he overtook me twice…bonnet to boot, nearly going off a few times…no one backing down. Once he forced me off track at 110 mph. Unfortunately I had to back off to avoid a penalty from Race Clerk. Track limits cannot be used to gain an advantage over a competitor. No worries, I overtook him on the hairpin as I pushed the limits a bit more, he skidded, I took the inside line…See you later Rob!

Where did I end up? You guessed it 7th.

7th in the qualifiers, 7th in race 1 and 7th in race 2, 7: my lucky number.

P.S: Rob crashed a 100 meters from the finishing line with Simon Kersey…life on the edge can cost you! They are both fine but DNF. We had to wait for 1h30min in Parc Fermé for the Clerk to release the drivers, all incidents were deemed fair. Time for a drink!

At the end of the day, I know it’s all worth it for the children that will benefit from the SOS Villagers program. Please help, thank you!


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A word from the Pro, by Tom Oliphant

img 8495 - A word from the Pro, by Tom Oliphant“I first met Karim when I introduced him to iZone Driver Development, he came across as a very confident individual who is clearly very successful in life.

His words to me were “I want to be the best I can be in Motorsport and I need you to find me the most optimal way to do this”, it is rare that a completely new driver has this determination and drive to achieve straight away. When we started training together it was tough and I think it quickly dawned on him how hard this task would be.

Starting from scratch is never easy, getting used to the sim, new tracks, the difference of driving a race car to a road car, it was all very new. Motorsport is a very tough sport to pick up quickly, you have to unlearn a lot of bad habits from normal road driving and be able to be committed whilst still being controlled.

Karim stuck with it and I started to see improvement, the consistency came and we could work more on technique rather than track knowledge. He really made a big step forward when he had more testing time under his belt, he was able to take the learning points from the real test into his sim work.

Going into the first race, I feel confident that Karim can fight for top 8 results and maybe better, his biggest challenge will be maintaining his performance when his heart is telling him he wants to be better. The main thing for Karim is to enjoy the experience, give his all in every race and learn from his mistakes, so we can improve for the next outing.”

Tom Oliphant is a professional driver and coach. Tom’s racing career summary so far:

Races entered 117
Wins 11
Podiums 36
Pole positions 6
Fastest laps 10
Race win percentage 9.4%
Podium percentage 30.8%

As always here is our Racing sponsorship presentation, don’t hesitate to give us a hand!

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kas 7198 - Last training session part 2/2

Last training session part 2/2

kas 7189 - Last training session part 2/2During testing, my battery light turned solid red. I’m hoping there’s not much to worry about there. Later on, I check my times with Mike again. I’ve made some progress and shaved off three seconds. I knew I could do it, I am half way there. A surge of exhilaration grabs hold of my mind and body. I’m getting better and better. Eagerly, I get back on the track. This is my way of talking game.

In the oval, I felt my tires were losing grip again at 108 mph, I am facing that dreaded concrete wall again! I also heard a strange noise coming from somewhere. It seems like the Universe was throwing everything at me to knock me off my balance. No chance. I will keep my line. The concrete wall will have to wait for someone else to kiss it. In the pit, they discovered that the differential had sprung a bolt. I was so relieved to know that the car wasn’t dancing because of me. We’re out of our depth, though.

wan2race - Last training session part 2/2Luckily, team Want2Race steps up to the challenge. They work their magic and Mike is with them every minute, watching and learning. And they did an incredible job. Thank you, guys!

Back on track, I manage to shave off another two seconds. 1:53. I decide it’s time to confront what happened to me last time. Meet the wet tarmac on the wet grip area. I got used to sliding, my back drifting and then gaining control again. Every time I slid, I was focused on the line. I felt the car’s reaction, what was going okas 7133 - Last training session part 2/2n and now, hopefully, I master it somehow better.
It’s time to go all in. I need to make sure I’m on the level with them. My mind slows everything down and I become aware of every small detail. I push her in every corner, I even conquer my fear and go by the concrete wall as fast as I can. My body feels the pressure, as sweat drips from my forehead slither on my jaw and down onto my neck. I pass the finish line – 1:51, just shy of the big boys now.

I did it, I got to my goal. It’s just a matter of time before I can do this consistently. I take down notes from the day, paying close attention to what happened and I head on home. I came here before the sun rose, I left after the sun set. Did time stop? I was so tired I could barely tell what was happening. I was losing energy, speed, torque and the dials kept spinning out of control. The speed was a constant 40mph, but the oil pressure was abnormally high. Wipers gave into the pouring rain, while the heat from the engine bathed me in steam. The battery went dead and I drove blind for a while, relying on the lights from the truck in front. I couldn’t see the signs, so I missed two parking spots. Soon enough, the engine gave up.

Using my racing skills, I carried the speed for a while longer. When I got out to push it somewhere safe, a few strangers jumped to my aid. I don’t know who they were, but, if you’re reading this, thank you!

I arranged to have the car towed. At home, there’s not one ounce of energy left in me. I can’t even take a shower so I’m going to allow myself one accident today: I crash in bed for a well-deserved rest…Tomorrow morning I will have to find a quick solution to get the car roaring again or they will be no race for me!

Will there be sponsorship for SOS Villages? Download our Racing sponsorship presentation to help.

Last training session part 1/2

kas 7240 - Last training session part 1/2Less than a week left until the race season kicks off. Do you know the feeling you get in the very last moments before an exam, when it’s your turn to be called in for that job interview or when everyone’s walking in that meeting? The one that’s going make everything happen or end it all? You feel far away, as if what’s going on is unreal but, at the same time, you know you have to be there. You know you can’t let this just pass by you. Focus on the present and live every second as if it were your last. With less than a week left until the race season kicks off, that’s how I feel.

Most people around me were sleeping, eagerly awaiting two relaxing days to recharge their batteries. I wasn’t. I was up at 4:30, before daybreak, to make it in time to the last training at Rockingham. This was the last chance to improve my lap times and get it right. I secretly wanted the sun not to rise, time to stop or maybe slow down, at least. Just me and the car on the circuit for a few days – nobody has to know. When I got there, I realized that I left home so eagerly that I had forgotten my lenses – minor issue, nothing to worry about.

kas 7198 - Last training session part 1/2Something else concerned me more. All the experienced drivers had their garages reserved, I found a spot on the parking. They were full of smiles. For a second, I was caught off guard. These are the big boys. I’ve been driving around the track for a while now, but they were the ones who owned it. Yet, this is just a narrative. It all comes down to the flag and the green light. They may be good, but they can’t stop me that easily. We’ll see on the tarmac if their attitude matches their skill.

When we start, my laps are far away from theirs. Mike times them. Who would have thought that I would use a business competitor analysis on the track? I’m at 1:58, while the good ones pull off around 1:51. The gap is big, can I get there? In the meantime, I introduce myself. You never know what a bit of socialising tells you about your competitors. They’re quite entertaining, always full of laughter and friendly jokes. I wonder if it’s a strategy to make you feel at ease.

Soon enough, my suspicions are somewhat confirmed. They say they don’t train. The instructors say otherwise. Combining mind games, understatements, civility and sportsmanship, there’s not one of them who is willing to give up their cards. Whether it’s laughing off a serious inquiry to avoid giving an answer, talking less in order to arouse nervousness in others or giving the impression they’re doing a lot worse than they are, it’s all about getting under the skin of your competitor and throwing them off their game as much as possible. But when I get in the driver’s seat, none of these things matter. It’s just me and the car.

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Is she following me? This girl is supported by SOS Villages and if you want to be part of our journey, download our Racing sponsorship presentation.

soscv logo 500px - Last training session part 1/2

First Trial, First Impressions

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Rockingham, Europe’s fastest racing circuit, is the first of four circuits comprising this season of Ginetta GRDC. With less than 10 days left until the racing season begins, the pressure is definitely mounting. We better know the other drivers and get accustomed to the track, qualifying chance to make the grid is 15 minutes flat. No more than 24 hours later, the real race begins.

kas 7112 - First Trial, First ImpressionsWhenever I firmly grasp the steering wheel and push the weighty clutch to the metal, a surge of adrenaline takes over me. The car’s engine, a 1.800cc, 4-cylinder, produces 135bhp. Unlike standard cars, there’s no stability control, vector assistance, four wheel drive or any electronics. You have to rely on your instincts to maintain traction in those tight curbs. There’s no power assisted steering,  which means that the wheels turn exactly as much as your hands are telling them to. And it gets even more interesting when you suddenly realize there’s no ABS, traction control, ceramic breaks, airbags or any kind of help. That’s right, you have to know how and when to break, otherwise you’ll find yourself in the gravel or kissing a concrete wall.

As exciting as it is, handling such basic bare bone car is never easy. I am not alone in my passion behind the wheel. Everyone else is training just as hard. So far, I drifted twice into the gravel at over 95 mph at Donington Park and Brands Hatch. Fuelled by an ambition to perfect my racing skills, I did not slow-pace my first training days and the wet tarmac of Rockingham showed me no mercy.

In a split second, I lost traction and I hit a concrete wall. Initially, I was angry for not anticipating the situation and reacting earlier – the steering wheel and the throttle were close to worthless because the wheels lost grip of the track. But then, while I was rushed with the ambulance and taken to a medic for a check-up, my mind was focused again. I needed to make the next start and improve my lines. Nothing short of perfection will satisfy my perseverance.

img 8390 - First Trial, First ImpressionsFor a while, things seemed to be getting worse, my car was in no shape to get back on the track. The Ginetta team were sawing the fibreglass, patching and taping to no avail…

On the other hand, the red flag meant race control stopped all racing and everybody had to go back to the pits. So as luck has it, just in time for the next start, I was offered someone else’s car. They understood my thirst and gave me the chance to run again. I couldn’t believe the camaraderie! If it happens to somebody else, I will return the favour; even for a competitor. Humanity is always there.

kas 7057 - First Trial, First ImpressionsAll the while, Mike Alder, our mechanic who is learning to be a magician (assistant, linesman, data analyst…) rather than just repairman, worked assiduously to remove the gravel from the tires, under the bonnet and under the boot… what a mess. I am in his debt for the quick turnaround he managed. Thank you, Mike.

The tension is rising. Soon enough, we’ll be up against real teams with tens of mechanics, data analysts, drivers who spend weeks perfecting elaborate techniques and their truckloads worth of equipment. We may be neophytes in many ways, but we will not be stopped so easily. I can’t wait to get back on the track…

I hope you are enjoying our progress, so don’t forget to be part of our journey, have a look at our Racing sponsorship presentation. All the proceeds from sponsors will go to SOS Villages. Thank you.

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SOS Kinderdorf in Kochi (Kerala) in Indien. Foto: Frank May/picture alliance im Auftrag von SOS Kinderdörfer

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