Crash on the pace lap? Never.

The English prefer to wake up early on Easter Sunday, moving their clocks forward an hour, but no one told me, not even the English members of our team.  I spent Sunday doing an early (except I was late of course) data review with Erik, Ben the data engineer and Matt over at the track, watched some painful qualifying video from Saturday, then a couple of practice driver changes with Matt that broke all records, then off to Liverpool to try to find the Beatles first performance location on Mathew St, the Cavern Club.  It first opened back in 1957 and 4 years later the undisciplined and unshaped band played their first gigs down in this basement cave with limited seating and no Beatles memorabilia on the walls back then.  Epstein discovered them in November that year, found them a new barber, chose a third rate drummer and the rest of their shaped and undisciplined history is history.  Liverpool and its dominant docks image are very impressive, having undergone an enormous reinvention and reinvestment phase, so now it's only partially lethal and dangerous downtown.  The Cavern has live music shows continuously 7 days a week from about 10 in the morning, quite amazing.  I was the only one wearing a racing jacket in the place.

Monday morning press breakfast in the United hospitality tent at 8:30 AM and it was cold.  Very cold; zero to 1 or 2 degrees.  Then the wind.  Looked like a mid-winter Alpine climbing event given all the warm woolen caps, ear flapped hunting hats, heavy sweaters, fleeces and ski jackets on men jabbering away over English tea with puff the magic dragon smoking from their mouths and nostrils.

9:10 for the 10 minute warm-up in sub-zero temperatures makes for tricky driving, no good lap times and fortunately, no wiped out cars.  The F3 series right before us needed 2 trucks to go out and collect two warm-up victims of the cold.  But they're younger drivers.  Good driver change practice at the end of Matt's 10 minutes, brake pads bedded, so we're good to go.  Zak said it took a full 4 laps to get temperatures working in the tires on the McLaren.  Right before the warm-up the series race manager popped his head into our trailer to apologize for their Nissan decision (slightly difficult decision with two Nissan entries and only a single factory driver each, no bronze drivers, but not the end of the world assuming they race only this event which is what they are saying now).  Then it popped up that the gentleman driver pairing in the Mercedes who have pole in Race 1 are both Silver rated.  There's another car with 2 Silver drivers too and the stated penalty is 65 kg, but once the regulating body starts breaking away from the fundamental tenet of a bronze gentleman driver with a pro driver, the series will lose it's appeal, just like the European GT series did a few years ago.  Tough being a regulator and balancing the literal rule book with the compromises presented to you at every event.

Race 1: not much snow, but some.  Coldest winter in about 60 years and it's not even winter here any more.  Recon lap felt good in P8 somewhat near the front, but sitting on the grid for almost 10 minutes means you lose all the tire temps.  One pace car lap and just where we begin to pair up at Druids, as I crested the hill, there's Jay Palmer starting P2 in his black Ferrari parked rear first hard into the wall, spewing tons of mud all over track.  I presumed he'd be trucked out of the race, but blow me over by the final turn he came crunching his way left and right through the paired up starting line-up...never seen anything like it.  Pace car kept the lights on (so still yellow conditions).  Jay should have started at the back.  For whatever reason the corner workers holding brooms and spades never cleaned the track before we went green.  All the drivers paired up except Jay Palmer who tucked in behind P1 like it was a restart.  He really needs some race craft advice from his pro driver or his team manager.

The start was clean and the racing very close, intense.  Zak Brown pulled out the big gun and kept it pointed at the back of my head from the word go.  I just managed to hold him off through the first kink in 5th gear before Shell Oil turn, by giving him no more than an eighth of an inch of room at the apex, but a mile later coming out of Druids my initial  blocking move was pointless as the 23 McLaren shot by like a Pistorius bullet down to the final 2nd gear turn.  Within a few laps a Ferrari spun wildly and inexplicably 400 yards past Cascade on a perfectly straight part of the track, almost taking Zak out.  Given Zak had put the Blackberry down a little more than 5 minutes before the race started, he was completely alert and focused, missing the Ferrari criss-crossing the track like in reverse.  He kept moving up as I moved back, damn him.  Two cars stole positions from me as I downshifted to miss the Ferrari and then we managed to hold the 25 Audi in place for the rest of the laps till the car in front of me burst into flames from over-exertion and started spraying oil all over the track and onto my windshield.  I'd luckily been called into the pits on that lap, so all felt cool till Matt and I had finished another good driver change and the mechanics came sprinting out with another tire in hand.  Not routine.

In British GT the pit stops require a driver change within a 25-35 minute window, but no refueling or tire changes are allowed.  Marcus the tire mechanic had spotted the left front at only 0.8 bar versus the normal range of 1.8 to 1.95 bar (yes, just like the Fahrenheit thing, the English prefer to measure tire pressure on a scale more in line with their Friday and Saturday night habits). So the quick decision was to use one of our Race 2 tires and get one with it.  Good decision, but not without an expensive time delay versus cars not changing a tire.  Ate 15 seconds up so Matt had to rejoin in P17, halfway down the field, while Zak's maniacal partner, Scotsman Glynn Geddie who keeps forgetting he hasn't been in a race car for 6 months, pounded his way relentlessly from P5 to close the gap on P4 and then 15 minutes from the end, passed a very greedy real estate owner (especially in Turn 1) in a Mercedes for P3.  An unbelievably good pro race developed from P4 to P8, all a tenth ot two apart and driving incredibly hard for passes.  More than 20 seconds behind Matt, and Matt Griffin in a Ferrari a car length ahead, pushed their way through mid-pack traffic and closed to within a hundred yards of the P4-P8 squad of drivers.  Without the flattish tire (which turned out to be a cracked wheel rim - no Richard Miens, rim, not rib), Matt surely would not have finished P10, but more likely P4 to P-5.  And that's not the worst tear that was shed in our garages.  A few laps from the end, with Glynn leaving the white Mercedes far in the dust, for some reason the 23 car's gear box decided to shut down, forcing the McLaren to lose all traction and drop back out of the points.  Not bad to be able to score points in a session with a flat tire that my superior driving skill was unable to detect at all.

United Autsports had both cars in the points, one of them heading for heavy metal on the podium, but it was not to be.  Only small ray of light was one Porsche was penalized for causing an ugly Turn 1 incident, so Matt and I moved up to P9 on a technicality.

Race 2:  started around 3 pm with Matt in P7, so his view of our Pit Babe's rear end was identical to mine in Race 1, except one spot closer to the green flag.  While these magnetically attractive devices are on hire to amplify the frequency of photographic opportunity for discriminating crowds, they are a huge distraction for drivers trying to unclutter their minds before a race, especially old ones.

It's amazing how violent and dangerous the start of a race appears from pit wall and how totally oblivious you are as the driver of the vehicle trying to lay claim to important real estate that will make for great stories and great positions later in the race.  This race, quite unlike the first, had all the pro drivers driving fantastic lap times, almost all of them flawlessly, but more of a processional affair than the non-pros all swiveling around like bobble-head dolls and doing manically stupid things to entertain the British crowds freezing their cold cross buns off out in this miserable weather.  With very few passes and almost no crashes (OK one or two mechanicals), Matt held firm in P6, but most others also held their position.  Gwynn had a tough starting spot in P17 so he was being held up by mid-filed traffic by at least a second or two a lap.

As Erik Petersen called Matt in early for a driver change to avoid the chaos of a crowded 30+ GT car pit lane built for 15 Minis and 3 Fiats, standing calmly in the garage I let my mind roll back to a comment Matt had made before the race: "We're going to podium today".  That may explain why I went to the bathroom 3 times in the final hour before jumping in for the finals tint.  I knew we had 25 seconds on Zak, but knowing Zak, that may not be enough when he's on his game.  Last night I'd generously paid for everyone's dinner but it was really just a cover to ensure Zak got 2 helpings of everything he wanted plus as much wine as they had in the cellar.  It was a great timing call by Erik as the "road" was wide open as we went out and I could attack right away without bothering about a gun at the back of my head like in Race 1.

Dutifully the gentlemen drivers fulfilled their fan obligations by careening into places and obstacles that don't leave cars in the shape they arrived in.  Without us lifting a finger we had moved from Matt's P6 to P4 as other drivers literally got locked up in pit lane bottlenecks.  Then 2 leading cars decided to remove the large stacks of rubber tires marking the critical turning point in both chicanes, completely ruining their race for their pro partners.  The obstacles are points to be aimed around, not through.  Some continued on way down in the field, while others parked their broken steeds trackside and became spectators for the rest of the race.  Right as the pace car was being called out a Ginetta elected to imitate an Indian fire burial right before pit lane - after fire truck after fire truck emptied their white foamy- smokey stuff all over the car for 3 full safety car laps, the ashes were collected in a matchbox and the race could be continued for just the remaining 2 laps.  I'd secretly been hoping, now that the field had been allowed to compress up to us leading cars (therefore Zak was nowhere near the safe zone of 25 seconds behind), that they'd just let usa take the checkered flag under yellow, but alas they made us race.

Richard Dean, Matt and Erik had tried to induce a not-for-position Nissan between me and the leading Porsche GT3 R driven by David Ashburn (probably seen as insensitive by the Ginetta owner) to step aside at the restart so I'd at least have a few opportunities to crash into Ashburn.  Reluctantly the Nissan let me through not on the re-start straight, but right as we turned into Turn 1, so I got cramped into the apex as Ashburn burned his way off to maybe a 100 yard lead.  So at this stage, you can decide to cede the race and be satisfied with P2 or you can listen to the goblins in your head and start believing you can stalk this monster down, creep up behind him and pounce at least once for a shot at the win.  The Audi's brakes are superlative, especially on the rare occasions when I'm able to hit the center of the pedal (have to right foot brake these days for strength reasons), so I started to close in on him with 3/4s of a lap to go and he knew it, so he blocked an inelegant attempt I made to appear to be trying a run around him, but in the final right hand corner, I ran to the no-grip outside to try to outrun him to the flag and he deftly pushed me left off the track till I had to concede space, crossing the line a few hundred yards later half a car behind.

Matt and the mechanics were in very good spirits, ecstatic at pulling off points in both races this weekend.  I was in a bit of a daze for sure, not knowing exactly how this had come about, but knowing deep down inside my partner Matt was mostly to blame for our good fortune.  The podium was fun, of course, and they awarded me some gentleman driver of the weekend trophy that looks remarkably like a mounted proctologist's training device.  Love British humor.  In turn, the British fans love racing and the press enjoys someone with a weird accent, confusing dialect with racing skill, so I got hounded by a lot of people with microphones, cell phones and crooked teeth.

A happy weekend with our sights now set on Rockingham's "roval" course near Birmingham in early May.  Let's hope hell is finished freezing over by then.


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