About 18 months ago, I was having coffee and toast in my favorite bake shop on the corner of South 5th Street and Berry Street. It is a small shop but the food is good. And I can keep a discrete eye out for our halcones and perlas on the street, who are often operating on the Brooklyn side of Williamsburg Bridge.
I had been reading the latest issue of an English weekly called Autosport. Guzik had been reading about a funny fellow in that same weekly and it had provided the inspiration to set up a race team to circulate some of our funds. The man Guzik had been reading about was English and looked like the result of Victor Frankenstein spending a night at Tussauds. Putting life into one of the wax puppets. Ecclestone was his name.
As I was reading about the exploits of the Stewarts, Ickx’s and Rindts of the world, they struck me as heroes. Brave men on a quest for eternal glory. Warriors of the contemporary age, who did not mind putting their lives at stake for ultimate honor.
Now, after having spent some races amid the racing fraternity, I however understand that about eighty percent of the scene consists of wankers.
The sputnik who wins the race is generally satisfied. As are his engineers and team principals. All the rest nags. About their cars lacking grip or power. About the unacceptable behavior of other drivers. About the track. About the marshals, the tires, the fuel… Heck, the other day I heard a French driver complain about the quality of the Coca-Cola served with his lunch. And the worst is that, for some inexplicable reason, they always feel a need to highly publicize their lamenting. As if the world cared one iota.
The only kind of people who do mostly not fit the above description, are the race organizers. The administrators or admins of a race series. They are saints. Who have to deal with all the wanking and complaining. And relentlessly strive to maintain a general consensus of satisfaction among teams and racers. Often in vain.
Spartan discipline and stark rigidity when interpreting regulations would be my way of doing things. Combined with the old methods to ensure people adhere to our way of seeing things. But then, one admin explained me, the cars on the grids of their race series would quickly dwindle down to sleep inducing numbers. The ego of the crackheads setting up race teams and driving racecars obviously not able to handle some simple basic justice.
So, the admins find themselves with no other option but to act as diplomats. In a world that commonly greets diplomacy with contempt and scorn. Considers it a token of weakness, a compensation for a lack of ability. Which is no surprise, once you understand that most racers really confound ability with swagger.
A statue should be raised at every racetrack of the world in honor of the admins. Heck, some of them should get a Nobel peace-price. No less.
When the Can-Am admins changed the date for the Road Atlanta race last minute, I thus quickly resigned to make no fuzz about it. Which surprised both Guzik and Shumway. And met their silent approval. Not that such approval was needed. I request nor need approval from anyone. But, now and again, it is just nice to not have to insist on getting things my way.
Still, the change in race date inconvenienced our small operation a great deal. Fuckface Voigt was on a trip to Ko Lon, an island just east of Rawai, Phuket. A former marine, who fell under the spell of an ex-hippie chick, had opened a physical boot camp resort on the island. The concept had immediately caught on with a public of West Coast producers, screenwriters and other second rankers of the Hollywood movie scene. Brainless boasters who understood that they only lived a shadow of their dreams. Yet refused to admit it. Nitwits in essence, but with money to spent.
So Alfred “Ferry” Hoffmann, a chemist we endorse with small fortunes to improve our product, had been working on a way to dissolve our powder into herbal tea. As such not a difficult task. Oral consumption of our goodies however highly diminished their effect. There lay Ferry’s challenge. He had once offered me a long explanation involving first-pass metabolism conversion and other chemical activity in a human body. I had understood close to nothing of it. But had remained lucid enough to order a solution to be found. Sounding sufficiently menacing to motivate Ferry while at it.
The herbal tea he had come up with, worked like a sort of harness around our core substance. Absorbing all the first-pass metabolism deterioration. And ensuring the core of the tea entered the blood stream in most potent condition. The only remaining issue was that absorption in the blood, and thus the high, took some time. But that was actually a bonus in view of the marketing vision behind this new product. We called it H Tea Plus.
Voigt was now to Ko Lon under the pretext of improving his physical condition for the upcoming races. The real reason was that he was our marketing tool number one. Who could promote a tea promising physical and mental bliss better than a racecar driver?
The ex-hippie exploiting the resort was in on the deal. Never had a negotiation been easier. She had tested the tea, obviously unaware of its true ingredients, and it had brought back memories of her former life. Memories she still seemed to cherish. So we had added the promise of free love with our driver to the package.
Shumway had feared that convincing Jon Patrich might have been a problem. But that was only because he underestimated the true force of testosterone in a male body in its twenties. That the ex-hippie had looks that were all but dislikeable did the rest.
Even if the initial returns of the scheme were more than promising, fact remained that we were out of a driver for Road Atlanta. So we hired an English bloke called Dave Miller to drive our car.
As the team made it to Road Atlanta, a pleasant surprise awaited us. Notwithstanding the advanced date of the race, the admins had managed to have a Spanish/Michigan team revamp the track. The result was brilliant. An oasis of green rolling foothills, with a track that deliciously swayed through the countryside. The racing on such a pearl promised to be good.
We were even more charmed as Miller arrived at Road Atlanta. The Brit being genuinely faster than goofed Vermeersch. Pretty soon however, he also started complaining about the Porsche being unpredictable and a handful to drive. I glanced at Marcelo, who was paid to deal with such worries. But all the hazy Spaniard managed, was some mumbling about a short wheel base.
Miller however managed to find a reasonable balance in the car. Still, he only qualified 29th of 32 participating cars. The section 501(c)7 status was under no treat.
Frenchman Plaçais put the power of the Ferrari to his advantage, grabbing pole. Followed in second by Ogonoski in the Shadow. Gerard Ryon managed fourth in a Lola. The remaining spots in the top 10 were occupied by the unavoidable McLarens.
As the starting flag dropped, Sabre immediately shot his McLaren into second, past Ogonoski. Plaçais’ lead however remained unchallenged. At least at this stage.
Behind the entire field seemed to succeed in having a pretty clean first lap until Scott Urick spun wildly in The Dip. Steve Parker could not avoid the spinning car and hit Scott’s McLaren hard, damaging both cars beyond repair. Martin Lacina also got involved in the accident, but was able to continue his race.
Plaçais was already building a gap over Sabre in these early stages. Helped in doing so by the fact that Sabre had to content with Ogonoski, who was charging hard from third.
On lap 3 or so, Sabre went slightly wide into turn 1. It was al Ogonoski and Gerard Ryon needed to sail past the McLaren. The entire top three of the race now consisted of non-McLarens.
The main suspense came from Grant Riddall working his way to the front of the race while trying to overcome the Porsche’s substantial lack of power. More suspense was to be found in the fight over 10th between Jason Whited and Raul Jereb, both in McLarens.
Upfront, Ogonoski was on the hunt after the Ferrari of Plaçais. Third placed Ryon could not keep up with the Shadow’s pace and had Sabre’s McLaren hot on his heels.
Our driver had meanwhile worked his way up to 27th, running immediately behind Marazzi. The Italian driver seemed to have damaged his car somewhere and was smoking in almost every turn. Still, the car seemed to function properly as Filippo continued lapping the track. The McLaren was however coping with an increasing inability to turn left. Race control asked him to pit and get his car repaired. Which moved our driver one place further up.
The front runners started lapping the back-markers and that would prove to be something of an issue around Road Atlanta. Philippe Henrique tried to move out of the way for David Sabre and went partially on the gravel. He then moved back, struggling for control, and got collected by Gerard Ryon in the Lola. Ryon continued his race but Henrique’s car looked like having suffered serious damage. He spun several times in the following laps, once almost taking leader Plaçais out. Till he blew his engine and retired.
The Ferrari was meanwhile still in the lead and was now enjoying a rather comfortable safety cushion over Ogonoski’s Shadow, who had Sabre growing wider in his mirrors. Austin felt the pressure and was starting to be very assertive while lapping slower cars. At times going for gaps that were rather optimistic. The determination in Ogonoski’s driving allowed the Canadian to reduce the gap with Plaçais. The lead and potential victory were beckoning.
The Ferrari-driver was quickly back to his senses however, and started building a safety margin again.
Ogonoski looked like having no problem keeping Sabre behind. Attentive bystanders could however hear Sabre shifting gears very early. The St Jovite-experience of a blown engine was apparently inspiring the McLaren-driver to caution.
Then, as if out of the blue, Sabre managed a much better exit out of turn one and sailed by the Shadow into turn 2. The McLaren was back into second. And immediately set out to reduce the gap to Plaçais, with Ogonoski now losing ground.
Behind the three leaders followed a string of McLarens. The first non McLaren being the Porsche of Grant Riddall who had climbed back to eight again, purely on the back of his strength and driving ability.
Ryon had fallen back to 14th with a badly damaged Lola, and was now juggling for position with fellow Belgian driver, Juha Bos.
A modest war of McLarens was raging for places 4 to 6. Mount Tremblant-winner David Jacques, who was now in an older M8E, was putting pressure on rookie Gabriel Sterr, enjoying his first race in an M8C. The German however proved that his lack of experience did not prevent him being quick as hell. He managed a better exit out of turn 7 and simply blasted by a slow Jundt, running in fourth.
Some laps later, Ogonoski succeeded in regaining second. But Sabre was not very baffled and remained glued to the Shadow’s rear end.
At the start of lap 29, Sabre pulled along side in turn one and just as some laps before, got by again. For some reason, Austin seemed to struggle with turn one, allowing Sabre to built a small cushion.
Plaçais meanwhile remained undisturbed in the lead. The order at this point was thus Plaçais on Ferrari, Sabre on McLaren and Ogonoski on Shadow. Then followed Sterr, Jundt and Jacques, all three of them on McLaren.
The order was however about to be seriously upset. On lap 30, Sterr and Jundt prepared to lap Filippo Marazzi. There still is uncertainty as to the reason why, but Filippo’s car was reported to have gone onto the grass, spinning back onto the track. Where it collected both Sterr and Jundt. Ending Jundt’s race. Sterr managed to drag his car back to the pits, where lengthy repairs were required. He would rejoin the race in 23rd or 24th position, 4 laps down on the leaders.
Jundt rushed from his car straight to the commentator’s booth, on a crusade to revenge all the injustice done to him. He forced himself an entry into the booth. And then launched a verbal attack on Marazzi. Judging a situation that involves oneself, is never a good idea. In this case, it was also gutless. As poor Filippo was denied any chance to defend himself.
“He (Marazzi) is not fit to drive,” was just one claim the Swiss übermensch launched on live broadcast.
Once out of the booth, his rage had not settled and he confided his woes to the tabloids. Referring to Marazzi as a “Texas driver.”
The second victim of the incident, Gabriel Sterr seemed way more sensible about it and, in a post-race interview, hinted that Jundt’s tentative to lap Marazzi was possibly a tad aggressive.
The Swiss had however firmly decided that he would not put himself in perspective. And now leached out at Sterr, claiming that he was in perfect control of his car. The mere mortals that we are, know that perfect control is not within man’s reach. But a Swiss god is obviously highly exalted above such practicalities.
One thing was however certain: the admins would have to be conciliatory saints once more. And the worst was still to come.
Things might have settled down a bit at the front of the race, but behind the madness went on. Jacob Fredriksson and Ray Riddall were fighting over eight spot with Dana Schurer putting pressure on Riddall. Their battle was very clean with Ray having some shy looks at passing Jacob, but none of the two drivers taking risks.
That allowed Dana Schurer to close the gap to Riddall. Out of turn 7, she pulled up alongside on the long back straight. The two cars went into The Dip side by side and just as Dana’s Autocast-entry seemed to twitch slightly to the left, Ray’s car moved to the center of the track. They touched, sending them both into the barriers. Dana’s race was over while Ray could continue but had to come in for repairs.
Some of the above misfortunes made that Jereb and Whited, who had been fighting for position almost all the race, were now fighting over 6th spot in equal cars. The crowd divided its attention between this battle and the leaders.
Plaçais’ advantage over Sabre had dwindled down to a mere symbolic gap, and the McLaren and Ferrari were now dicing for the lead. With the race half ran, the track was thus the scene for at least two intense battles that had important points at stake.
Our guest driver was receiving extended praise from the commentator’s booth for giving the leaders plenty of room while being lapped. Old Guzik had made sure that by now, I fully grasped all the implications of the section 501(c)7-status. But a line had to be drawn still. Being deserving yet not very successful amateurs was one thing. Being also ran cowards was a whole other. I reminded myself to have a chat about that with our new driver. Then remembered that Voigt would be back for the next race and that he even lacked the ability of being lapped properly. An idea that kind of restored my peace of mind.
Whited meanwhile was taking the better of Jereb with a daring move around the outside in the Esses. Daring as the pass may have been, it was executed with perfection. Jereb however seemed not impressed by the move and stayed hooked to Whited’s behind.
Just in front of them, Grant Riddall, who had steered his Porsche back to a 5th spot throughout an anonymous race, pitted for what seemed like refueling. Both McLarens went by and were now running 5th and 6th as their duel on the ragged edge continued unabated.
Up front Plaçais had pulled out a small gap to Sabre again. Handing him a slightly more comfortable lead. The Ferrari was clocking laps in the 1.07’s now, which was faster than half the field had managed in qualifying. As if that was not sufficiently impressive, he was turning these laps with an almost unearthly consistency.
While he was building a real advance over Sabre again, he hit Christian Dauger’s car that had spun into The Dip. The Ferrari also spun, but could continue its ways. Sabre’s orange McLaren had however gone by and the order at the front was inversed. It was now Ferrari chasing McLaren.
With 30 laps of racing to go, the running order was Sabre on McLaren in the lead. Plaçais a close second in the Ferrari. Ogonoski was running an increasingly lonely race in third with the Shadow, as was David Jacques in fourth in a McLaren. Then followed two more McLarens of Whited and Jereb in respectively 5th and 6th. Fredriksson, Ryon, Hackman and Grant Riddall completed the top 10.
But a storm of controversy was about to hit the race and the entire series.
Ogonoski was now closing in on Plaçais’ Ferrari and it looked like a battle for second could be in the making. Sabre meanwhile remained well within Plaçais’ field of vision. The Ferrari was however turning about 1 second a lap slower than its previous pace. Indicating that the car may have suffered damage in the incident with Dauger.
Sabre made a small mistake exiting The Esses. But tiny as it was, it was enough to let the Ferrari back in the lead. And the McLaren now had a Shadow in its mirrors to worry about. Sabre seemed to be handling the increased pressure rather poorly as he again went wide in The Esses, now letting Ogonoski through. David used the power of the McLaren to immediately reclaim second on the back straight however.
All that allowed Plaçais to grab some breathing space. But the race had turned into an all out wrestle match for the top three positions.
Our Porsche, running a distant 22nd, got caught inbetween Jereb’s car, who had just lapped it, and Sabre who was about to lap both of them. Into turn 7, Raul’s car went slightly sideways. That unsettled the tricky Porshe and Miller had a half spin. Which forced Sabre into an evasive spin. Ogonoski was back to second.
Some laps later, a bombshell would however hit the race. Dauger spun inbetween turn 1 and turn 2. Just as Ogonoski came charging on. The Shadow had nowhere to go and speared into the Lola. The impact launched the Shadow and it ended upside down. Ogonoski’s race was over, as was Dauger’s.
With hindsight, it really was a racing incident and there was not much Dauger could have done. There was also a certain cosmic justice to the whole thing. It was Dauger’s previous spin that had put the Shadow back on Plaçais’ and Sabre’s tail again.
No way in hell, nor in heaven for that matter, Ogonoski would see it that way however.
In a first post incident reaction, he remained very moderate. Proposing the idea that cars could be forced to retire after a certain number of incidents in a race. The rather lukewarm reaction of other drivers to the idea then put the Canadian in quiet a frenzy. He proceeded to analyze poor Dauger’s race in all but respectful terms. Ending his rant with: “Why do we need 9 extra cars inflicting pain and suffering on those in contention for points?”
An admin intervention to ease the tensions seemed unavoidable.
With about 12 laps to go, Plaçais now had a solid lead. Followed by four McLarens of respectively Sabre, Jacques, Whited and Jereb, who was seems to have taken to Can-Am racing like a duck to water. In sixth followed Grant Riddall with the Porsche. Which was a magnificent performance taking into account the power handicap of his car.
The last part of the race settled down into a rather monotone procession. None of the top cars in a position to discomfort one another.
Plaçais coasted to the first non-McLaren victory, bringing a golden trophy home to Maranello. Even if Road Atlanta was the first race where a McLaren did not finish on top, it was the race where the McLaren stranglehold felt stronger then before. Everything from second to fifth being monopolized by McLarens. Sixth went to a brilliant Grant Riddall in his underpowered Porsche 917/10. Ryon, Fredriksson, a fantastic Juha Bos and Martin Lacina rounded out the top 10.
In the championship, the two top spots are now occupied by McLarens, Sabre’s second position at Road Atlanta putting him back on top, and David Jacques’ excellent one-off drives handing him second. Plaçais is in third and Ogonoski falls back to fourth.
The real story of this race was however not finished, as the frantic comments of Ogonoski and Jundt were still looming over the series.
The admins reverted to being saints and handed out some sanctions. But more importantly, installed a race control that would now monitor cars during races and, where required, impose them to pit or retire. That should allow avoiding a repeat of the incidents at Road Atlanta. And restore sanity at the Glen.