Attending that banquet last night had most probably not been the best of ideas. The knowledge that I had to race today, should have convinced me of going for an early night. But then, fate will sometimes not be denied its fair share. So when I bumped into Oliver, while strolling along Old Market Square, a devil’s pact had swiftly been sealed. Oliver was a face that belonged to a time in my life that now felt like a million years ago. A past I wanted to escape from at all cost; even that of leaving my homeland behind, crossing an entire ocean.
“There is this banquet at the Duke of Portland,” Oliver said. And added: “The entire old crowd will be there, old chap. Do come!”
And so I went, without really understanding why or how I was about to meet faces from years ago. Who all still sported the same grins. Just an additional wrinkle left or right betraying that some years had passed. There was still the same barman called Sean, as full of laughs and jokes as he had ever been. The same large stairs leading up to the toilets, with steps of the same clear wood that also covered the floor.
She had been there. Even if there was no rhyme or reason for her presence. Unaccompanied. About 700 kilometers away from home and without a lawfully wedded husband. In a place that did not have the best of reputations when it came to chastity. Would she be hunting ghosts of the past, I wondered? Which would make us a perfect match. As the only thing I had been up to lately, was running from the ghosts in my past. Even if not being very successful at it.
“She still looks mightily good,” Samuel, another face from nearly a million ages ago, had whispered in my ear.
“We have to stop meeting like this,” she said.
“Yes,” I said and knew that there was a lie that would convince she nor me.
After the dinner, everyone indulged in the same old amical brawls about who was really best, The Kinks or The Who, or whether Ruinart was really that much better than Bollinger. And about good old J.W. who had betrayed us all; and at least ten thousand other things of pressing importance and vast influence. All the time obviously consuming brown rum with Coca-Cola in quantities that could be but excessive.
Was it wise to stumble out of a place like that at about a quarter to five in the morning, with her on my arm? Was it wise to submerge myself in every possible ghost of the past rather than scattering any possible memory of them, before getting some sleep? In a clean hotel room that sadly failed at masquerading its cheap feel. Where the bed creaked under the solemn weight of our yesteryear’s tale.
“Chaque jour, quand j’embrasse petit Arnaud devant l’école, je te vois toi,” she moaned before falling asleep.
Somehow, I gathered enough strength to stumble out of bed by 10 o’clock, barely 4 hours of troubled sleep later. I kissed her softly on the forehead, anxious not to disturb the almost august beauty of her sleep. Effectively leaving her to settle the bill of the hotel. Knowing that she would be smart enough to somehow slip it into her savior spouse’s accounting records.
I could hardly remember the last time the day’s first coffee put a lump in my throat as big as the one this morning in Nottingham. But such was life. I had plenty of time left for the not even 20 miles to Donington Park, driving the Suburban, my trusted shelter against the world and life that intermittently comes with it. Rolling along Remembrance Way…
I arrived at Donington Park, a track that has in truth never been one of my favorites. And that is putting it mildly. I felt tired and weak, and like sleeping for the next three perturbed days in a row. Rolla, a mechanic who had learned some of his trade from Marcelo back in the day, immediately guessed the sleepless night and arranged for some additional hours of sleep on a dreary bench in a dirty camper. But it would do… For the likes of me, anything does really.
Rolla wakes me up just in time and straps me into the mighty M1.
Twenty-third on a grid that attracts no media attention whatever, except for that small Indie television station called HSO TV. Buried in oblivion… ready to start a race with the ever increasing urge to just sleep already getting the better of me. Maybe, I do not deserve any better.
Of all places, today’s race has to be at Donington Park, I mumble. I never got this place. Chronically failed to develop any feel for its rhythm. As a kid, I had the wildest dreams about it. Dreams fueled by heroic visions of Rosemeyer and Nuvolari manhandling their Silver Arrows around the track. But as often, reality had been a thorough disappointment.
First time I raced here was back in the days of the Crammond GP2-series. Wheatcroft had only just acquired the track back then and had not yet gotten around installing decent amenities, making for a very bleak track.
Then, the GPL 65-series visited the place, and again it was no success. The level of grip was so low that it felt like ballet on an ice rink rather than a race. The Wheatcrofts have luckily laid a new layer of asphalt since then and the track feels much better with it.
The first turn up ahead is still bloody Redgate though. There probably is no corner in the whole wide world that I loathe more than Redgate. Never ever have I felt like nailing the oddity. Not in touring cars, not in sports-cars, not in open wheelers. Never.
She is like the ultimate tease of corners. Standing there with eyes flirting and every single one of her curves tempting to go and meet her. So you steer in as early as possible, with the eagerness of a juvenile hoodlum, and immediately she changes into an ice queen. Throwing an apex in your face way to soon. Breaking all your motion through the endless rest of the turn. Totally ruining the exit and the whole run down and through the Craner Curves with it.
Next time round, you have learned your lesson. And pretend to not notice all these eyelashes winking and legs stretching. And you turn in much later. Only to find the cunt offended at your lack of enthusiasm and rebuking you onto a line that is way too wide. One that ends on the far outside curb or worse, on the grass. Where you scrape and fight for grip and momentum. In vain. Ending up being even slower through the Craner Curves.
The Craner Curves! Who always conspire with the Old Hairpin to procure what the French call “un mal de crane.” Maybe the rum and cokes still oozing through my skull will make it better today. But here on the grid, I am far from convinced.
The starter raises his flag. Twenty-eight six-in-lined Bavarians start whistling. The flag drops and my getaway, in second to avoid an overly brutal smash of torque in my back, is clean and good. I even start dreaming of gaining some places. When the torque kicks in and the car sharply veers to the left… I back-off, manage to keep it straight over the strip of grass and avoid touching the wall. The car is still in pristine condition, but everyone is past. Dead last and there looms Redgate… Pranked like a toddler. If only I was not strapped into this seat, I would kick my own butt.
I set out to catch the field. One car is already upside down on the exit of the Old Hairpin. I fail to notice who it is. Just think something along the lines of: “Bad luck sucker, here goes Johnny.”
I manage a good exit from Coppice and carry speed onto the back straight. Vydra is on the left, Acerclinth on the right prepping to move on Vydra. In front of them Chacon is in all three our ways.
I carry more speed than any of them; move to the far right to maybe take both Acerclinth and Vydra. There is nowhere to go however and I hold back. Settling back to the left side of the track that offers a better line for the Chicane.
Vydra and Acerclinth make a mess of the Chicane and are both slow on the main straight as a result. This time, I have a clear run on Acerclinth. I am well alongside of him entering Redgate. The shithole of a corner for once seems to work with me.
“My seat is loose and I can’t see my mirrors.” Jonatan’s words just before the start flash through my mind. Too late, as I am now committed to an inside pass on the RSM Marko-car. I hope he has seen me… but obviously he has not. And as I already start prepping to accelerate out of the corner, I feel his car smashing into my left side.
My car spins. Back to square one. Did I already say that I hate Redgate? Absolutely despise it. Today will obviously not be the day to change that.
But Acerclinth at least is a gentleman. And even while Helmut Marko is yelling at him to do the opposite, Jonatan waits and lets me by through the Craner Curves.
Riddall has meanwhile shown the world how lady Redgate can be seduced, grabbing second around the outside of Johnson on the first lap. He is now chasing Canola, who has gone from his pole into an early lead, and the both of them are already inching away from Johnson and Jaques in 3rd and 4th.
Remmen’s race is over. He is the one lying upside down on the side of McLean’s after contact with Jereb.
Acerclinth and I decide to chase Vydra and Chacon and are swiftly making up for lost ground. Acerclinth seems to have less rum in his blood than I and has a look under braking for McLean’s. I leave room. No reason to be picky over a few inches of track this early on.
Riddall is meanwhile still lurking on Canola’s tailpipes. His royal Grantus has a look as they rocket along Sharkey’s straight towards the Chicane, but wisely thinks the better of it.
Johnson, the Californian Sunshine Kid, closes in and turns the pair of leaders into a trio. Sunshine clearly has only scurvy plans for both men in front. As they speed towards Redgate, starting the fourth lap, Johnson has a look on the inside of Grant. But lady Redgate clearly favors Riddall. The Brit stays ahead in second.
Jaques has fallen back a bit from the leading trio and is somewhat running on his own. Just like Jundt, Fredriksson and Plaçais who follow behind Jaques; each of them clearly eager to catch whatever crumbles may fall their way.
About 7 laps in to the race, the field is spreading out. Except for the leading three, who run away from the rest like a freight train on kerosene. It seems Riddall can keep up with Canola while comfortably containing Johnson behind. But whenever Grant tries to get a taste of the lead, Canola can slightly edge away and Grant immediately has Sunshine on his case. So the three of them seem to content themselves with reigning over Donington like a modern cross-Atlantic triumvirate.
Acerclinth and I catch Vydra and Chacon. The Brazilian utterly fails to understand the difference between defending a securable position and plain old blocking, hanging on to a lost position. He nearly succeeds in punting both Vydra and Acerclinth of the track in first the Chicane, then Redgate.
Lukas, understandably, has enough of it and forces his way past at the Craner Curves and the Old Hairpin. Chacon, who hardly looks like able to hold a line anyway, is now entirely out of his depth and has to let Acerclinth through in McLean’s. The Team Schnitzer car loses every ounce of momentum out of McLean’s and is practically crawling up the knoll towards Coppice.
I move to the inside line and easily pull ahead of the Schnitzer car. As we enter Coppice, I have actually fully cleared the number 61. That corner is mine. But the bovine, his head full of ice-cream sugar, obviously decides to desperately hold on to a lost position and turns in. He punts the rear left of my car with his front right. As if he were driving bumper cars on a state fair somewhere. There is no way in hell he cannot have seen me.
Anyway, the hit puts my car in the sand trap on the outside of the track. Chacon off course soldiers on as if nothing happened; no gentleman in there. No waiting, no apology. Nothing. Nada. I already imagine him glaring about “an excellent race, with no mistakes” after the chequered flag.
“Brazilian bovine!” As I knock a dent in the BMW’s roof, stamp the accelerator hard. And hear the magnitude of the six in line behind hiss. It probably is the only sound in the entire world that still holds some solace for this battered soul that is mine. So, only a quarter into the race, with nothing left to lose or gain, I decide to soldier on. Dead last. As if all former accomplishments no longer exist, no longer matter amidst this succession of sad corners and tricky straights.
Hlavac decides he has seen enough of Czlapinski and forces his way past in the Chicane. The move gets him 14th and some open road ahead, but will never earn him a prize for beauty. With everyone in equal cars and on a track with no real overtaking opportunities, that is however often the only way to get the job done.
Lady Redgate decides it’s time to show just how fond she is of Grant Riddall. On lap 11, Grant pulls alongside Thiago on the inside. Queen bee Bitchy Redgate gently pats Riddall on the shoulder and waves him past Canola.
Riddall immediately starts building a gap. Which has Johnson now all over the back of Canola, wanting to get ahead and avoid Riddall pulling out too much of a lead.
Last night rum and cokes now really start messing with my concentration. And the Craner Curves finally get to my skull… I spin off into the Old Hairpin. Still no damage to the car so… soldier on old chap. Just continue driving and postpone reentering that other world; the shitty one on the outside of the car.
Johnson is reducing his efforts to get by Canola. Which gives Thiago some breathing room; a breath of fresh air he uses to close back in on Riddall.
Those two, Riddall and Canola, appear in my mirrors… I will have to empty this goblet to the dregs, it seems; and allow them to lap me.
To add some vinegar to the dregs, the race stewards decide to meddle in. Riddall, true to form, is by in a flash. Then we enter the Craner Curves – Old Hairpin – McLean’s – Coppice section and Thiago does not immediately find a spot to pass me. I prepare to slow a tad on Sharkey’s straight and let him go. But the stewards disapprove of my strategy and hand me a drive through.
I dive into the pits straightaway, take the drive through and rejoin the track with now only a shimmer of a hope to catch that Brazilian bovine in the distance.
Jaques comes up to lap me, Swiss Precision Drill Jundt in his wake. As we enter McLean’s, Johnson has just gone off on his own. He is rejoining the track and old Austin obviously is not accustomed to using his mirrors. Has no clue what the darn things are supposed to do. Works under the solid assumption that no one could ever be going faster than him anyway and thus has no use for them. So the Yank just cuts on to the track, straight in front of my car.
“Well, you can move to the right, can’t you?” I hear the Californian sun fried kid thinking.
But McLeans really does not have ten million possible lines. And certainly not when you’re trying to leave room for Jaques to come by.
Nowhere to go but to slam Johnson’s ass. Which slows my car suddenly and catches Jundt by surprise. The Swiss in turn hits my rear-end. And now, the car has damage.
It still feels ok though, so… I soldier on. To forget. To escape those visions of a vicious past. And the memory of just last night. Forget what I have once been. Forget what could have been. Refuse to let live trick me into believing that it can all be undone and can still all turn out for the best. I have been suckered in believing that just one too many times. The unavoidable deception was always more than I could handle.
As if to offer some cosmic justice, Jaques manages to snatch 3rd from Johnson, who now has a charging Jundt on his tail.
Canola and Riddall prepare to lap a Brazilian driver, which is not necessarily a riskless endeavor. Grant gets somewhat slowed while passing Chacon and Thiago tries to seize the opportunity to recover the lead on the run up to McLeans. To no avail. Grant still leads. Thiago still second and Jaques now already 5 seconds behind in 3rd.
Things start moving now. Dave Miller moves on Ray Riddall under braking for the Chicane and lays a successful claim on 14th spot. That forces Ray on a wide entry for the Chicane, which wakes the opportunist in Whited. Jason tries taking 15th through the Chicane. It only results in his car bumping into Ray’s car and Sabre pulling ahead of Whited. The two GS Tuning cars are now running one behind the other in 15th and 16th, with Whited behind in 17th.
As they brake at the end of the main straight, Lady Redgate, the wretched twat, decides to reprimand Whited for his daring attempt at passing Ray Riddall. She flips the rear of Jason’s BMW around, leaving Jason to cartwheel of the track backwards, where he slams into the tire barriers. He retires the RSM Marko entered car.
I’m still grinding laps as all this happens and move one up, courtesy of Whited’s retirement. When the stewards decide to hand me yet another drive through. And now continuously wave a board warning me to leave faster cars through or accept the consequences. While there is no faster car to be discerned within the next twenty-five miles or so.
Plaçais and Thim are scrimmaging over 7th spot and, in the heat of the moment, Thim cuts the Chicane ostentatiously. The marshals, who by now seem zonked out of their minds, immediately hand the Swede a drive through. Others being treated as unfairly as me is small consolation, but it gets my spirits up a bit nevertheless.
Johnson lures Jaques in handing 3rd back to him, but then finds Canola and Riddall about 6 seconds ahead of him. Closing such a gap in equal cars looks like a mammoth job. And not in the least because of it being Canola and Riddall up front.
It now seems to be raining drive-throughs, stop-and-gos, take-a-pees, have-a-beers as well as all other kinds of penalties. Race control at this point seems to be hanging out with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, crazed out of their minds, any sense of clear judgement submerged in whatever abusive substances they have managed to get their hands on.
Czlapinski spins and makes way for Parker. Cezariusz retires the factory entered BMW. I will move one place up, but don’t even notice anymore. This race no longer has any relevance.
I get an increasing impression that, even if penalties are handed out like cheap flyers, no one is actually serving them. Except the basket case I have been facing in the mirror every morning over the last months. I am already up to my third drive-through. This is ridiculous, I think to myself. But still it beats the crap out of the misery out there, on the outside of this safe shelter on speed.
Gardiner pounders a fraction in time on how to best lap Iquino. It is a fraction too long. Hlavac goes around the outside of both Iquino and Gardiner, effectively taking over 10th and the last point to be earned from the race.
Gardiner hangs on however and refuses to let the Czech run off into some castled distance.
Riddall has finally managed to get some space in between him and Canola. He now has an advantage of about 2 seconds, with only 10 laps to go. Grant seems to be throwing gibberish at his car: “And I know I was wrong, when I said it was true, that it couldn’t be me, and Surtees in between. Without you,…”1
Whereas me, I no longer have any clue as to what position I am running. Dead last for sure. But I haven’t got the slightest idea as to how many laps remain. Or how far ahead my closest opponent is. And in truth, I don’t give a damned fuck anymore. This race is a failure. I had hoped for some midfield scrapes, maybe get a point, but this… This is just sheer humiliation.
Riddall goes wide lapping Ryon around the outside in the Old Hairpin. He cuts across the lawn but keeps the car straightened and barely loses time. No foul done.
Race control persists in reaching ludicrous decisions, disqualifying Jereb from the race all together. This is a joke… Still, if they keep this up, I may still end up scoring a point. Wouldn’t that be swell?
Hlavac is the man on the move, going one better by dispensing with Bos.
Steve Parker throws the towel in the ring.
The monotony of the race, one lap following an identical other lap, has now fully settled in. I welcome it gladly as the last place on earth where the images from the past can float without becoming insufferable. Images of that Kent Oil 150 at Watkins Glen.
How I failed to notice how perturbed Marcelo had been prior to the start. As he was giving me some last pointers, there on the grid.
The starting flag dropped. Rick Mears shot into an early lead with me following in second. Then came Bobby Unser, Gordon Johncock and Al Unser.
By lap 17, Mears is still leading. The two Unsers are 2nd and 3rd. I follow in 4th.
Both Unsers have the pace and I decide to stay on their tracks. Deep into the race, Bobby Unser takes over the lead from Mears. I decide to pull ahead of Al Unser. I manage a better line through the Toe and on the Boot’s stretch pull alongside of Unser’s Chaparral. As we slow for the Heel, Al is slowed by transmission problems and third is mine.
I am now absorbed by the task of ushering the car around the Loop, through the Boot into the 90, and trying to catch Mears in second.
Meanwhile, Guzik and Marcelo still exchange worried glances in the pit.
Miller has just dispensed with Riddall Senior. Whited smells an opportunity…
“For Christ’s sake, with a man like Voigt we should be able to pull through,” old Guz blurts out.
“Yes, we can not reproach him anything.” Marcelo’s instinctive reply.
I stay glued to Mears’ Penske and have some looks at his second place. To no avail. Rick holds on to second and I bring home third for the Deloretto team.
Today still, the words of a journalist immediately following the race lash out to me like a thousands horsewhips. He had a wild bowl of dark brown curly hair on top of a deep blue shirt, I recall. And a face that still looked young with some delicate treats adding age.
“Brilliant effort for your last race at Deloretto, Voigt.”
Bewilderment grabs me… Eyes widening with disbelief… Stammering… Vainly grasping for a composure… Any composure.
“Don’t you know, the team is folding. It’s rumored to be on the verge of bankruptcy.”
I fail to manage a reasonable reply; just rush to the camper. Where old Guz awaits me with Marcelo, always the innocent supportive bystander. The Grand Patron had been nowhere around that weekend, I remember now.
A series of excuses pours out of Guzik, like a cascade of meaningless drops on crumbling ground.
Lady Redgate does not appreciate opportunism very much.
“One weak season with lesser results… And advertisers redirect their budget. And then we invested heavily in the first production car and the U.S. homologation … refused. A tile falling straight on our heads…”
“An entire roof of tiles.” Marcelo adds. Mockingly.
The fake wood of the camper’s partition, the kilted covers on the seats, it all looks distant and meaningless suddenly. While an entire era dissolves, quicker than the lightning in a distant storm.
Then Guzik offers the miracle solution; one that will appease all of this. My third spot here is a buffet of fresh air that will allow the team to finish development of the new USAC-car. That car will be a winner. And will put the team back on the road to success.
Marcelo seems doubtful, but remains silent. Some things never change.
“In a few days, we can start testing it at Lime Rock.” Guzik pleads.
“No”, I scream now, “the car is not ready to be driven at speed. We talked about this already.”
Guzik pleading again. And I leaf the camper. No longer understanding anything, like a mutinying soldier…
With two laps remaining, Canola posts fastest lap of the race. It is as if he is screaming to Riddall: “Boys from Brazil, gentleman and adventure, killing hearts and gentle life, spending money in capitals… Eyes of the world on you.”2
Nothing upsets Grant though and he goes on to cross the finish line first. Canola duly follows in second, Johnson rescues third.
Then it is a jamboree of J’s from 4th to 7th: Jaques David in 4th, Jundt David in 5th, Jacob Fredriksson in 6th and John Thim in 7th. Yves Plaçais, Petr Hlavac and Juha Bos round out the top 10 taking the last 3 points paying positions.
However, race control now insists on enforcing the penalties that have not been served. So a bunch of drivers get disqualified, promoting me to 14th. Which feels like a small token of unexpected justice after all. If I had not been punted off, I might even have ended up in the points.
I can live with 14th. But allow the slightest ray of sunshine in a feeble bugger’s day, and immediately a much darker cloud comes rolling in. The tires have not even cooled off or there come the series organizers, overruling race control’s edict. And placing me dead last again…
Behind even the Brazilian who is now boasting in the pit that he did not notice all the penalties.
This cannot be just. And calls for a rising from the ashes:
“Lacrimosa dies illa
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.»3
As I leave the Donington track area, I grab a forgotten spray can. And leave my mark on one of them walls: “Voigt was here…” I store the can into the Suburban and reach a firm decision. At the Avus Ring, I will reuse that spray can. To spray: “Veni, vidi, vici!”
Full broadcast of the race is HERE.
Standings after round 1 – courtesy of Lukas Vydra.
3 From the Dies Irae.