How pleased I am with myself to have left that birthday party early last night. And with barely a drink in my veins. One rum and coke. Beyond that, just still water. And sound asleep by one am.
The bar had been filled with Englishmen unable to hold their alcohol anyway. For some reason, that always results in shouting, lame gorilla dance moves and the accidental pushing over of things. A dear friend turning thirty certainly was an occasion for apt celebration. But I had a race… And I did not feel like waiting around till one of those Anglican bovver boys poured the unavoidable glass of booze over me.
So there it was. John Patrich Voigt in bed, sober as a bird, with the midnight hour barely behind him. Almost like in the old days.
And the effort shows. 13th on the grid is by far my best starting position this season. True, a field dwindled down to only 18 cars more likely than not contributed to the achievement. But I am still close to half a second faster than Vydra, who had been faster than me in the last races. Some order restored at least.
Even if Chapman clocked a quicker lap than me, less than a tenth of a second remains only marginally faster. I thus expect to dispense with Mick soon after the start; help him avoid that Indianapolis success getting to his head.
As the starting flag drops, Grant immediately converts his pole position into a solid lead. The grant man even makes it look easy. Jaques holds on to second with Sterr close on his behinds.
Young Alberto Iquino, who clocked an impressive 4th fastest time in qualifying, kind of cocks up his start. He is passed by Thim and Miller and falls back to 6th. Still impressive of the young padawan though.
My start is not shabby either. But the best starter seems to be Dutch fool Remmen. He shoots past me straight into the top 10, before we even start rounding the mighty Tamburello for the first time.
I recover quickly though. Chapman and Riddall the Wiser engage into some silliness, rubbing and dubbing the entire long run up to Tosa.
The inside line is wide open. This boy does not stutter and graciously slides by both the aforementioned. Back up to 12th!
Sabre the Second goes wide out of Tamburello and wastes speed and time on the grass. This boy is up in 11th. And we still have to round Tosa for the first time.
As we shoot up the hill towards Piratella, I have Whited’s ass wide and clear in front of me. And what an ass it is, with all that Richmond red and white. In front of Whited, Remmen has pulled ahead of Boss and the latter is now feverishly trying to get back ahead. “Just hold your horses,” I convince myself. Those two goons are bound to end up slamming into one another… And a top 10 spot and the points that come with it will be up for grabs. And we have not even completed lap 1.
Vydra completely bollocks up his braking for Rivazza and nearly T-bones me. His car shoots straight across the sand traps into the tire-barrier. His race is over.
Another one struggling with his car is Sabre, and both Riddall the Wiser and Chapman get ahead of him. The former then seems set on not wasting time and starts pressuring me.
Out of the Traguardo for the first time, I am a tad wide on the kerb and my rear slings outwards. Nothing I can not handle though. A bit of opposite lock cures that situation and my car is already screaming towards the Tamburello again. The Wisdom called Riddall is still behind. He is doing a very poor job at hiding his intentions of getting ahead. Will I hold on for another entire 24 laps, I wonder?
The GS Tuning car seems stuck to my bumper. But through Acque Minerale and the Variante Alta, I seem to get some air in between us.
I am again slow out of the Traguardo. And the situation only worsens as we exit the turn onto the long straight: I fail to engage 4th gear. That leaves me struggling to get back up to speed. And there comes Riddall the Wiser pulling ahead. Unstoppably. Chapman tries to follow in his wake, but I manage to keep Mick behind. Still 12th, with about 23 and a half laps to go. Everything is still possible. Just keep focused old boy.
Sabre’s luck is much poorer. He goes wide again in the Tamburello and this time spins his car across the track and onto the grass on the inside. Where he comes to a stop without hitting anything or anybody. As by miracle almost. David is down to dead last however.
We enter lap 3 and I think I sniff an opportunity at reclaiming 11th under braking for Tosa. But an old fox like Riddall is not fooled that easily. Ray keeps the speed up around the outside line and stays well ahead. While around the corner, Lady Calamity is awaiting me. I hit the accelerator to hard out of Tosa and there is no holding the rear. It is spinning and sliding. Praying to not hit anything.
I end up with the car facing the fencing on the inside of the hill up to Piratella. Chapman goes by. Acerclinth goes by. So do Martinelli, Ryon and Sabre. I am down to 17th; last of the lost souls trying to find their way around this track.
Still, I avoid touching anything and the car does not even have a scratch. Soldiering on thus seems the only wise thing to do.
Bos and Remmen are meanwhile still fighting over 8th and are, as often, both operating on the brink of the admissible. One is hard-pressed to find any sportsmanship in that battle.
Bos has a better run out of Tosa and pulls alongside on the inside line for Piratella. Then almost shoves Remmen out.
Remmen, as always unable to recognize a gap in ability, hangs on. Against his own better judgement almost. The BMW Netherlands car stays on track but is in dire lack of speed on the run down to Acque Minerale. Bos seems to have the right to the corner, even if on the outside.
Remmen obviously sees things slightly differently and shoots straight ahead through the chicane. Partially jumping and giving a whole new perspective to the notion cutting. The miserable move however costs him dearly in speed on the run up to the Variante Alta. Allowing Bos to move ahead. No price for beauty will ever be attributed to their battle however.
Remmen is immediately forced into the defensive again, as Whited now has an eye out for his 9th spot. The American has a look into Rivazza but few now the art of senseless blocking better than Remmen. The Dutchman stays ahead, but for how long?
I meanwhile only need two laps to get Ryon back into my field of vision. And I close in fast.
One lap later Ryon thoroughly misjudges Piratella and ends up plowing the sand on the outside of the track. He rejoins the track before I can get ahead but has no momentum whatever on the run to Acque Minerale. I on the contrary do have the momentum and pull ahead on the inside easily.
About ten million BASF Cassetten then move to the inside under braking for Acque Minerale. Bloody Ryon is checking up. We touch. My car wiggles. But I hold on to it and move ahead. Ryon’s nudging has not damaged my car. But that was still not cool Rardo. Not cool at all.
Back into 16th is small consolation, but it may be an omen of bigger things to follow. I will first have to keep Ryon behind though, who now seems glued to my rear bumper.
He never comes close enough for a move. Then, on lap 8, entering the Acque Minerale, his car launches on the kerb-stones. My rear view mirror shows the horror of the red car taking of to higher skies, then crashing back down upside down. But for some reason, it does not look all that horrible to me… Rather the opposite.
Whited has meanwhile been a tad to eager to get ahead of Remmen. That has allowed Riddall the Wiser to sneak through on the inside of Piratella. The Brit is set on striking while his German iron is hot and is putting tremendous pressure on Remmen. The Hollander is completely out of his depth but stubbornly refuses to give way. Everybody but him understands that this can only end in tears.
Those tears hit Stever Parker first. He is running a lonely 7th when he spins onto the infield at Rivazza. Bos goes by. So do Riddall and Whited. Steve then rejoins the track and cuts right back onto the racing line in front of Chapman, who is forced to back off.
Remmen meanwhile predictably cracks under pressure. He stumbles straight ahead out of Rivazza and only rejoins in 13th.
Parker soon gets back in front of Whited. But getting old fox Riddall back, avers to be a whole other ballgame.
At the front, things are as they seem to have been the entire season. Grant Riddall leads the proceedings with calm supremacy. Jaques has gotten away from Sterr and looks perfectly at ease in second. Sterr confirms a string of earlier strong performances.
I am on Sabre’s tail now and it looks as if I may have a shot at getting ahead. But the blue and white car then goes straight ahead in the Traguardo and dives into the pit. Looks like David caught a drive through penalty somewhere. I move into 15th.
Chapman spins in Acque Minerale, letting Acerclinth and Remmen through.
Parker has caught up with Riddall the Wiser and is eager to get ahead. But Steve is discovering that for all its greatness, speed and majesty, Imola sure does not offer real good passing opportunities when running equal M1’s.
So Steve attempts what seems the best solution. Slip-streaming all along the main straight, through Tamburello and then brake later and move ahead around Tosa. Steve fills his head with steam and sucks up to Ray’s car. Then finds Ray covering the inside line and has nowhere left to go with all that speed except for the grass bordering the track.
Both end up spinning in Tosa and the car roaring with laughter is Whited’s. The American gets 8th thrown at him.
Remmen has another off at Rivazza, allowing Chapman to move back ahead.
Riddall the Wiser has a second spin at Tosa and Parker goes off at Piratella. Which has Acerclinth entering the top 10.
I have Martinelli just in front of me. But again, passing does not really require much effort. The French driver spins his car in the Traguardo, leaving me to simply pull ahead. Over 10 laps of the race dispensed with, and I am now back into 14th.
Remmen, still running after all his spins, is next up. I am closing the gap to Remmen at such a rate that I expect to move ahead within a lap or two.
But before I get there, Remmen pulls into the pits and retires a perfectly sane car. Perseverance never has been the Dutchman’s strong point. But here at Imola, he takes it one further; preferring to abandon rather than put up a fight to yours truly. Not all of us can be valiant warriors, I guess.
I move up to 13th. But with Riddall Sr. about twenty thousand miles ahead, the outlook is mainly that of yet another lonely race into oblivion.
With about four laps to go, a white and brown reddish thing looms up in my mirror. In the distance, it looks somewhat like a radish past consumption. Would it be Riddall Jr. eager to put me a lap down? Indeed, it is.
I however refuse to take this ultimate insult just laying down. And as I tow Grant past Chapman, who got stuck in the Rivazza sand traps, I decide to put up a fight.
The closure rate of the fast Brit under braking for Tosa is however of such massive impressiveness, that my courage shrinks as quick as any pride left. Climbing towards Piratella, I leave the fast man room and waive him by.
Grant goes on to take another impressive victory, his seventh out of 9 races. And with those comes a crushing series victory: 63 points ahead of the championship’s silver medal, Thiago Canola.
David Jaques brings the Cassiani car home second. Securing himself the bronze medal in the championship and some consolation for a season filled with bad luck and adversity. Would Grant Riddall have been as dominant if Jaques would have faced less problems, many wonder?
Chapman’s misfortune in Rivazza earns me a 12th placed finish. Which really is small consolation under the withering white skies of humiliation that pull in over me. Nine races and not one podium. Not a top 10 even. An not one single point to show for.
That is what remains of the great J.P. Voigt who once made it into the Ferrari Formula 1-team in only his rookie season. And then went on to become feared the whole route from Phoenix to Atlanta.
Maybe it is time to stop dragging all these memories with me. They may not take up much space, but they sure weigh a man down. Memories, they come in to haunt me. They surround me, then drown me. But they also repair me. Provide guidance and something to aim at.
Those memories of mine. Lately, they always seem to end up with the same pair of eyes starring back at me.
Final standings after round 9 – courtesy of Lukas Vydra.