Core Blimey, Mate

Corby sounds like a cute little light brown, short haired British pooch, but it's really just a dog of a run-down, dilapidated steel town in north central England's catch basin for most of the country's inclement weather.  Naturally, therefore, Americans interested in expanding Indy's footprint to Europe and elsewhere chose Corby for a $200+MM investment that has produced a negative return of roughly the same amount.  Initially it was easy to assume the investors perhaps hadn't heard of a development called the internet or, if they knew about it, forgot to go to www.weather.com to compare Spanish, Portuguese and French coastal weather patterns to those prevalent in and around Corby.  $200MM mistake.  Rectified by tossing the whole Indy idea, launching a local racing school gig that brings in a sixpence every 3 months, plus 2 important race weekends annually, made possible by the further investment of an infield squiggle-wiggle track designed to exhaust even the fittest of bicepts.  So like at Homestead, Miami, we use a very modestly banked oval Turn 1 that needs a well set-up car to get through flat and then wave goodbye to the rest of the Indy dream, hammering through a whole series of 1st, 2nd and 3rd gear infield turns on a track measuring about 2.5 miles.  They've obviously never dreamed of hosting a 12 or 24 hour endurance race here as even Rambo would decline to participate.  That plus fast food outlets qualify as upscale restaurants here.

This weekend Alvaro Parente is not conflicted so he's back in the McLaren 23 with Zak and due to Richard Miens' ongoing back, knee and mental recovery process, Jody Firth (not sure that's his correct last name as he has a lisp, talks about letting me "thee his thecond brother) is teamed up with Mark Blundell in the 24 McLaren for the rest of the season, and Matt Bell and I have the challenge of demonstrating the Audi R8 is competitive against these gorgeous looking McLarens.  Alvaro has 8 stitches in his head after trying to shoot a heavy china plate thrown in the air by an equally incapacitated friend - the plate was smashed as planned, but not by the gun, rather the crown of Parente's skull.  He has now sworn to limit the beer intake to liters and not gallons at the next trap shooting party.  No other known driver injuries, so it was such a pleasure to wake up Sunday morning and see literally not a wisp of a cloud in Britain's bright blue sky as we headed over to the track for Practice 1.  Yesterday it had rained midday and hard, but with the wind and warmish temps, all was dry again by the time we took a track walk at 5 pm.  Summer was over by 10 AM today as heavy clouds rolled in to blank out any blue skies, though rain never arrived, so we got both practice sessions and qualifying done in fine racing conditions.

Audi has come up with a better master cylinder for endurance racing brakes and though this is just a 2 hour sprint race on Monday, all Audis have been asked to change to the new mechanical upgrade, changing one of the best features on these race cars.  What a pity.    Matt and I struggled with set up refinements and finding any punch to the brakes comparable to what we were used to.  We ran P9 in the first practice and improved to P3 on new rubber in the second practice, giving us a shot at a reasonable qualifying position.  Lap times in both practice sessions were in the low 1 minute 23 area, a few tenths better than last year's qualifying time, so the pressure was really on.  Despite the aggressive tire-eating nature of this track and the wide variety of drivers in the series, there were very few completely idiotic moves in both practice sessions, though a T-bone here and a violent spin there certainly kept some mechanics very busy.  No oopses for all 3 of our cars that I was a aware of.

Brendon Hartley brought Sarah and his new white Mercedes down to watch the carnage, offering a tip here and there so he could bum off Zak's fabulous United Autosports hospitality tent.  He and I are racing at Imola in 2 weeks time.  Jody Fifth or First or Firth was his partner at Le Mans in the LMP2 car, leading for many hours.

Qualifying at this 2 hour race requires both drivers to complete at least 3 timed laps using no more than 2 new sets of tires; team picks whichever driver they want to start the race from the best position attained by both drivers.  Erik Peterson, our engineer, thought up a craft strategy that shafted me but was best for the team: Matt goes out on fresh tires and "banks" a good lap, then I go out on his hot tires to put in the required 3 laps (worked out pretty well with Matt in P3 and my 1 minute 25.7 second lap, while irrelevant, was allegedly at the top of the gentlemen drivers, giving us a measure of hope for tomorrow' race).  The smart part of Erik's strategy was to send Matt back out on the track with the 2nd set of fresh tires to give our best driver in effect 2 opportunities at pole.

The car was definitely so much better than in the practice sessions, but while Matt knocked off a few more tenths to get a 23.4, a few drivers managed to knock off more, so we ended up P6, with Alvaro placing Zak in the 23 McLaren on P4 for the start (three Porsches in the top 4 cars has to have you scratching your head).  All 3 cars ahead of us had less than 2/10ths separating them from Matt.  We wished for our old master brake cyclinder.  Young Nick  Tandy took pole in Oulton's winning Porsche, so they'll have the large, very large and experienced gentleman driver start the race - the same hippo who held me off on the last lap to win back at Oulton in Race 2.  Joe Osborne, an previous year pro partner with me in the Audi, managed to place his BMW a penny in front of Matt's time and will have Lee Mowle, his gentleman driver, start the race.  The front four on the grid tomorrow all had times in the 22s, real scorchers, so we'll see how those cars do when the chimpanzee driver like me gets in and starts the race.  Should be fun to see how we all shake out and who tries to grab too many bananas in the early stages of the 2 hour race.  27 GT3 cars and 5 GT4 cars which circle this track on average 10 seconds slower than the GT3s.  All the GT3s are within a 4 second a lap spread In under 8 laps we should see some lapped traffic and the fun will begin.

I'm terrified to go back on the web again to verify this, but tomorrow is reported to be another fine cloudy day with zero chance of rain.  Zero in England doesn't really mean zero because they only measure rain when the downpour exceeds an inch.  Here's hoping.



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