Why was she in Austria? And for the entire weekend to top things off. The question had not crossed my mind once. Until now, on the starting grid of yet another race. Yet another excuse I used to run away. Once more.
The days leading up to the race, spent on an estate owned by an old friend on the banks of the river Mur, had lingered like a brief truce amid my endless vamoosing. She had simply appeared. As if her presence was the most obvious thing in life. Like the wax sealing the brief truce in my existence. Had it been mere coincidence, I mused? Or were there, against all odds, still some who felt that I occasionally earned the seclusion of a cosy cradle?
We had spent the Saturday on the balcony overlooking the river; under a scorching hot sun. Keeping ourselves hydrated with some excellent white Am Berg from the Gruber estate. And maintaining an illusion of soberness by eating shrimp croquettes and ibérico de bellota.
I took little Arnaud to the shops in town and bought him a sweater and a jeans from a brand that is fashionable of lately. And all I noticed was the firm conviction in the sales clerk’s eyes that she was facing a father and a son.
Later, with Arnaud entrusted to the care of my friend’s housekeeper, we had dinner in a fancy new restaurant. Where they served cold mussels with green celery granita, bagels with pulled pork and oysters with poached ostrich egg. When we returned to the estate, Arnaud was already fast asleep. And we indulged in home made limoncello. Getting pretty drunk while listening to the synthesizers of that young Lyonnais, who managed to marry Charlotte Rampling.
When I finally rolled into bed, she had already slumbered off to far away illusions. I just pulled her close. And felt all that an ordinary live had on offer. I pondered the idea of hanging up my helmet for good. Find a job somewhere, a rental condominium. As I would get home from a meaningless job at night, the meal she prepared for me and Arnaud would bring life and warmth to the table. The soft light of a mellow September sun washing through the cosy living room… Ordinary people sharing a simple dinner within the security of a common family… But then, the call of the tracks arises; muffled, but impossible to ignore. I was gone before she even opened a first anxious eye.
Under that familiar burden of sleep shortage, 18th on the grid is not too shabby. Sure, it is nothing compared to Fast Grant’s one millionth pole position. But it still means that 10 suckers were slower than me. Their names are of no importance. Nor is their ability. Just that they are behind…
Grant puts his pole to good use and, contrary to some previous races, keeps the reigns over the race solidly in hand. Jaques understands that he has no option but to charge like a mad man. And immediately shoots past Canola, grabbing second before they even reach the Hella-Licht S.
My spirits go into a steep ascent as my start is more than decent. Almost no wheelspin. With good purchase on top of it. Enough to have a peep at the space inside Hackman and the pit wall. Hackman shuts the door firmly. Forcing me to move back towards the middle of the track.
Where I still have sufficient pull to move ahead of the 42 car. Be it with High Governor of the North Sabre dan David on my rear.
The Hella-Licht S, a silly chicane they have laid down in ’77 following Donohue’s shunt, is approaching very quickly now. I am more or less past Hackman but the American has gotten his Bioscalin car up to speed.
Time to repay a favor or two and decisively protect the inside line. Just Sabre dan David on the outside to worry about now. For a split second at least…
Mayhem surges all over the Hella-Licht S exit. Cars slide and spin wildly. Janik hits Parker. Body colors, smoke and sponsor tags gyrate in whirling panic. Twisted pirouettes of metal and rubber clog the run towards Dr Tirok. I swerve left, soon redress right… And as if touched by the hand of a God, whose existence I profoundly doubt, swing passed all the agitation without as much as a scratch.
High Governor of the North Sabre dan David has gotten in front however. And with yellow flags waving in every darn corner of the track, the Governor is slowing down. So do I. But rest assured that yellow looks like green to Americans. Hackman comes storming past both Sabre and me on the left side. There has been talk about this after the Avus. And again following Monaco. But still some seem to insist on using the yellow stretches as a perfect opportunity for overtaking.
Maybe it can be put down to unknown side-effects of the hair tablets from Hackman’s main sponsor. Little do I know. But I will not have an entire file of idiots pull ahead under a yellow that is not my doing. Time to bio rescale some of this crap.
I move slightly to the middle of the track.
More cars spin in my mirror. I just continue to elude the mayhem. Almost like a phoenix rising from his ashes. But my ashes are off course nothing but a craven’s vile treason.
Parker retires his car following the Hella-Licht S.
Grant is firmly in control of the proceedings as the field heads into the second lap. Jaques and Canola follow in respectively 2nd and 3rd, but none of them within striking distance.
Behind, in 4th and 5th, Czech muscle flexes versus more Czech muscle. Lacina, making a come-back at the Österreichring after a spell in darker places, is under heavy pressure from fellow Czech Hlavac. Petr has a first look as they storm down towards Dr Tirok. Then pulls entirely alongside on the run to Bosch Kurve. Hlavac is however smart enough to back out of a risky move this early in the race. But Lacina is advised to keep his guards up.
Race control hands a 10 seconds stop and go to Remmen.
Hlavac has another look at Lacina under braking for the Hella-Licht S. But the Czech holds on to it and displays some real skill by sticking to an outside line all throughout the fast chicane styled S-bend. This is nearing the stuff legends are made off.
Starting lap 3, Riddall the Faster has already opened up a gap of about 2.5 seconds on Jaques. Who in turn has Canola sniffing at opportunities to pull ahead, anxious to not let Grant get too far ahead.
Behind the leading trio, the entire field seems split into head-to-head battles, one more intense than another. Lacina and Hlavac are still having it out over 4th and 5th. Fredriksson and Thim have a rather heated argument over 6th and 7th. While Dave Miller, Juha Bos and Brian Janik exchange lukewarm arguments on whom of them should hold 8th, 9th and 10th.
Things are no different in my parts of the world, even if all has settled down a bit after the opening lap fracas. I’m running 15th – at least some spots gained – with Sabre, who does not look entirely comfortable, in front of me. Not far ahead of us, Hackman is trying to get the better of El Mercenario de la Tierra de las Flores Alberto san Iquino. The American may be the only one lacking a litany of accolades in his name, but he still seems fastest of our illustrious quartet.
As the four of us tackle the second round, the Governor is still struggling with his fat Motorsport mama. He skids very wide in the Bosch Kurve. I have a massive momentum advantage on the run to Texaco and set the car up on an inside line.
I fail to capitalize into the initial left hander. But still have the momentum to have a second peep in the second left hander. His eminence the High Governor is defending with all he has. But he does it clean, as becomes a High Governor of the North.
I am meanwhile pretty certain that, on the HSO broadcast, Ibanez’ comments run somewhere along the lines of “ho, Patsy Voigt is giving Sabre dan David a run for his money.” Accompanied by a yelping White: “Wohohoo guys, be careful…”
Don’t you worry Jase, this bunny is set on keeping his carrots out of trouble.
Remmen is handed a second stop-and-go penalty and calls it a day.
Starting lap 7, Hlavac has seen enough of the awkward pale green on Lacina’s car. On the run to the Hella-Licht S, the Czech pops out of the slipstream towards the inside of the track, his head full of steam. He brakes sufficiently late, keeping the advantage and Lacina has no option but to concede the turn.
Hlavac grabs 4th. Lacina tries to retaliate through the Bosch Kurve, but comes short. From there on, Hlavac gradually pulls away. Leaving Lacina with a new cause for headache named Fredriksson.
Janik succeeds in getting the better of Bos.
Sabre is still ahead of me and seems to be getting a better handle on his car. I can keep up. But opportunities to truly disturb the Governor have dwindled quickly. Iquino on the other hand still seems to be slowing Hackman down. The American and me face the same problem. We are faster than the guy in front, but fail to find a way past. Adding to Hackman’s worries are Sabre and me now reeling him in fast. This situation looks like it may break into a four-way melee for 12th place every minute now.
And indeed, High Governor of the North Sabre dan David and J. Patsy dan Voigt are soon on to the Hackman-Iquino duo. Hackman sees the writing on the wall and ups the game in his quest for a way past Iquino.
On the main straight, he moves inside to attempt overtaking El Mercenario through the Hella S. Sabre meanwhile has naughty ideas about turning the Hackman-Iquino situation to his advantage. And I patiently pace myself just behind the entire foolishness. Ready to jump at the slightest opportunity.
And opportunity knocks: Sabre brakes way too late for the S and shoots straight into the sand-traps. I do not need the slightest overtaking skill and simply coast by; lazy as a skunk.
I am in 14th now. But foster more ambition than that. Hackman, his hair in a perfect Bioscalin trim, is still chasing that mercenary from the Flowery City down South. Who still looks like slowing Hackman down. Making it easy for me to tease the both of them with some childish peekaboo moves.
Lacina is discovering that the eagerness of Hlavac was really nothing compared to that of the King of Polar Speed Jacob dan Fredriksson. Fredriksson moves ahead on the inside of Dr Tirok. Lacina is not one to take it lying down through. He pulls alongside on the ensuing Valvoline Gerade and is on the good side for a move into Bosch. Fredriksson defends with sheer callousness, sticking to the outside. Pushing both cars somewhat wide, very close to the brink of mental insanity.
More is required to unsettle Lacina however, and the Czech remains in front; pulling a small gap through Texaco.
But this thing ain’t over. Next time round, Fredriksson catches a perfect tow out of Dr Tirok. Then moves for a pass along the outside. The Swede slightly looses balance through the fast left kink leading to Bosch. His car wiggles ever so slightly. Lacina really has nowhere left to go and both cars touch.
The Eggenberger car slams into the fencing on the outside of the bend. Forcing the King of Polar Speed to continue with a battered car.
Riddall the Faster has doubled the gap to Canola and Jaques and is now about 10 seconds ahead of anyone else on track. Everything indicates that another walk over for Grantus Maximus is in the making.
I still have the seventy-five dollar seat for the Hackman versus El Mercenario spectacle. Hackman seems to finally put an end to the show and gets the better of Iquino into the S. But things go sour. There is contact between the two cars and suddenly the whole S-shaped complex is clogged with rubber sliding and squeaking.
I stiffen behind the wheel. The Governor is again breathing hot down my neck… And these two goons mess up the road ahead… But an unexpected cool descends into my cockpit. And out of the cold blue depths of the Austrian mountains, the Iceman resurrects. Guiding his M1 in between the black Mercenario’s car and the Bioscaling contraption with a precision and a poise that have been sourly missed for so long.
12th is mine. This is worth any home cooked dinner in the world. Fake all your dreams, this is heaven! And this is no place baby, for us to be.1
I just have Larry, Curly and Moe behind me left to deal with. They keep up alright. But never really come within striking distance. And things only improve. In true stooge fashion, the three behind settle their own destinies by scrambling off the track, somersaulting onto grassy slopes of Austrian Alp.
That leaves me running almost all by myself. With just less than 15 laps to go and Vydra more or less 10 seconds ahead of me. I even catch an occasional glimpse of the elegant livery on his Merzario Team car. Catching Lukas will not be easy but impossible, it is not. Provided I keep my mind to it at least. And that may prove to be expecting a tad much.
Still, I set out to get Lukas back. And stay ahead of Hackman, who has gotten his show on the road again. Be it some 8 seconds behind me.
Thim is gradually evolving into a rolling chicane for a small train of Miller, Janik and Bos. A trio that has been running rather evenly spaced during the entire race but, as they are slowed by Thim, all close up on each other.
Miller makes it past Thim somewhere and is running 7th. The Swede looks keen on getting back ahead and sticks to the Pooh-car’s bumper. Both of them are catching back-marker Chacon at high pace. The Brazilian is obviously puzzled as to how he can let the fast men through.
Miller manages to get ahead in the second part of Texaco. But only after muscling his way past, even entailing some minor contact. That leaves Thim bottled up behind the Brazilian. The Swede makes it past on the run towards Rindt but has lost ground on Miller.
Jaques is making it a point of honor to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that no man in the whole high North of Canada is braver than him. He launches into overtaking Canola for second around the outside of Bosch Kurve. A brave move certainly. But one that is rather unlikely to succeed. Canola stays in second. Even so, the challenge is on.
Fredriksson’s brakes clog up, possibly as a result of his earlier antics with Lacina, forcing him into retirement. That puts me in 11th. Catching Lukas is suddenly no longer a mere ego-thing. A championship point is at stake…
Thim’s situation is not improving. His tyres seem completely ruined as his fat Beemer’s ass is sliding through the corners. It looks a lot like a former prom queen struggling in a soap wrestling match. The challenger in this case being Detroit’s finest: Brian Janik. It is only a matter of time before Janik gets the job done. He pulls past on the inside of the Texaco left hander and, following Fredriksson’s demise, grabs 7th.
Getting back to Lukas has meanwhile turned out to be less easy than it seemed. I push and I push. But the gap is still about what it was some 10 laps back.
And there is other stuff to worry about. Hackman is resurfacing from behind. With about 6 laps remaining, he is a clear and present danger in my mirror. Still, what is six laps? I will manage…
On lap 23 of 25, my front snaps a tad wide at the apex of Rindt. The white and green car is now carrying way more momentum than me. It pulls alongside on the main straight. I could slam the door on him, I think. But then, that is for weaklings who lack the confident certitude that they will pull back ahead in the next bend. And so I leave Hackman the entire inside line to pull his stunt.
Till it downs on me that all those Bioscalin stickers have disappeared. Replaced by what looks suspiciously like a large capital F. Fuck me… it ain’t Hackman. It is Prusa, First of the Prussian Magi.
Being beaten by American Hackman is one thing. But by crafty magic… I think not. Prusa moreover has a hard time keeping his car straight under the heavy braking. So I engage full assault mode. That Prusa Magus is cat’s food in the making.
All through the S, I have better momentum and even show my nose to Prusa’s rear fenders. I imagine White, over in the HSO-booth, nearly having a fit now: “Do be careful boys!” But Prusa and I keep it a civilized kind of ragged edge… And the Magus holds on to 11th.
Maximus Ruler of the Western Hemisphere Grant Riddall the First and Only has meanwhile embarked on what will be his last lap around die schöne Österreichring. He is light years ahead of Canola and Jaques and has no worry in the world. Except one… Ryon seems to have gotten it into his head to grab the lead. Out of a 17th placing. In just the one remaining lap. Being lapped by the actual leader does not fit into that plan.
Grant, smarter then any of the other coon dogs around, has the wit to back off and hang behind. He seems set on just crossing the finish-line in Ryon’s wake, well out of Canola’s and Jaques’ reach anyway. But just then, Ryon goes wide in Texaco and lets Grant through.
Allowing the Great One to fully establish his reign over the race… and over the entire series, as things stand.
I am still pushing Prusa in every corner. On the last lap, I build momentum out of Bosch. Increase the pressure throughout the entire Texaco left handers… Clearly have a better run on the short straight towards the Rindt Kurve. Brake way later and move up on Prusa’s rear inside fender. But Magi seem not to be into the “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”-game. And rather than retuning the favor I did him on the approach to the Hella S, he decisively shuts the door on me. We touch… And I now imagine paramedics rushing to the HSO-booth.
But we keep it straight, with Prusa still ahead. Don’t you worry though Magus. You might have some magic tricks… I have a strong memory. The Magus and I cross the finish line within an inch of each other. 12th is the best I could do.
I wallow in some more self-pity and false humility. All the while looking on in awe at the championship lead Grant has now amassed: 43 full points on second placed Canola… With only 60 points left to win. I wonder how Grant will play down his chances in the post-race interviews this time. But he will. As Grant has really tuned every aspect of this dark business down to perfection.
My disappointment for the day is not over. It appears that the HSO coverage has not mentioned any of my actions. Even if some verged on the edge of brilliance. Like tiny remnants of the great champion I might once have been… Roses were thrown at Magnano for spinning of in 20th. Accolades were made for Riddall the Wiser and Hackman… finishing 16th and 13th respectively… But mention Voigt… Oh no, oh no. Maybe it really is time to turn my back on this grey stuff business.
How does it feel, when you needed faith and there’s nothing to preserve?1
Full broadcast of the race is HERE. Still worthwhile watching.
Standings after round 6 – courtesy of Lukas Vydra.