Promoter SRO demanded drivers show up at 12:00 for a fan autograph session and when we got there, they had 40% too few chairs. Marketing 101. Sorted it out by having their lunch guests stand around the food till the autograph session was over. Marketing 201. They got Marketing 301 dead right by conducting an outdoor experiment to find the Spandex stretch limits on outfits made for pre-pubescent junior school girls worn by adult models, some still with their original color hair nature endowed them with (can't actually prove that), though other endowed departments seem to have been radically altered. Fortunately for the little children among the fans, Spandex won the test. The predicted midday rain arrived at 12:30 at the end of diver autograph session, reduced to just some light sprinkles. Matt Bell pointed optimistically up at a solid barrier of heavy white cloud, a sure-fire signal that heavy rain would breakout soon in any other country, saying: "Aha! The sun's about to come out". You have to live here to think that's not just plain silly. Turns out he was right. Not only did the spitting heavens move on by, but the clouds did too, bluing the skies and allowing the sun to bake up the track and make early morning fast lap times a matter of history.
As the grid formed up after everyone's recon lap, the front row was left empty to respect Allan Simonsen, the "Great Dane" who did not get to see the end of Le Mans this year. Every British GT car had a special commemorative sign with Alan's name on each door panel, remembering his presence in and contributions to British GT racing. So Matt and I started P14 on the grid, but P12th in "car terms". Our plot was to capitalize on my early morning over-ambitious lap times and try to move through 4 to 6 of these Pro-Am drivers in the first 50-55 minute race stint and let Matt do the rest. On this narrow, vicious, uncompromisingly tough little twister, the start really matters, so I took counsel from Sir Richard Dean who may have raced here before Senna, Piquet and Mansell for all I know. His advice was to stay tight into Turn 1 at all costs and not to worry about the tight hairpin at Druids, or Turn 2, but to insure I owned the inside line down into Turn 3 as everything would -single-file itself out after Turn 3. Our start was clean and fast with no one menacing at our heels so I forgot Deano's words of wisdom and really cost us dearly. I took the Audi out wide left for a smooth dive over the hilltop and immediately regretted it as 2 enemy tanks occupied the hole with gratitude, making my sweeping turn impossible. 2 more cars got me getting through Turn 3, including Zak in the darty McLaren # 23, by which time I was rapidly losing both places and confidence. Soon enough I settled down and chased Zak down, when he suddenly slowed to let me through before Turn 6, playing out our sinister plan of Audi-attack, McLaren-defend. Worked for a while but despite hitting times of 1:29.5 through 1:31s which engineer Eric Petersen repeatedly misled me into believing were as fast as or faster than the leaders, I caught no one at all. The only good news was that this track was doing its vicious best to claim as many car parts as it could, primarily after some ugly shunts. The startling thing was that unlike Nascar and Grand Am who whip out the double yellows to bunch up the field for TV finishes, Brands Hatch's corner workers have an arm sawn off if they so much as reach for the yellow flag. They brought lorries and flatbeds right to the edge of 120 mph corners to retrieve damaged Ferraris and Astons, but wouldn't bring out a safety car, placing their workers at extreme risk of bodily harm. In America you get penalized for not slowing down in corners were a yellow is flapping at the marshall's post. Here you get a box of toffees for scaring the living daylights out of these orange overalled officials stupid enough to place themselves right in the path of danger. No one slowed down at these accident spots.
In time Gregor Fisken, the renowned London vintage car dealer from Scotland, pushed his luck too far and I gave him no quarter in Turn 3 when he turned sharply into the apex as if I wasn't already there, resulting in a quick spin and taking them out of contention for the race. I got hit 3 times, twice going into Druids under straight line braking (so no big deal), but once a McLaren tried to ram me off left into a spin coming back down the hill after Druids, which wasn't much fun. Well into the first stint I came upon the carcass of Zak's # 23 car parked in large pieces in the kitty litter at the entry to Turn 5. He was in 5th gear bottoming out at the dip before the quick braking and turn-in spot when a tire blew at 150 mph, which gives even a seasoned driver no time to book a hospital bed. Into the wall you go and hope you don't get too badly hurt. He walked away like an untouched trooper. 20 laps later the other McLaren had a gear box issue and had to retire early.
I handed the car over to Matt in P11 and he took off like a man possessed. Less than halfway through the stint he was up to 8th and then slowly reeled in a tight bunch of cars, putting 2 more away with about 8 minutes to go. For some inexplicable reason, a very seasoned pro, Warren Hughes, down over 4 laps due to a mishap in their Audi, made it his personal mission to block Matt and not let him through. So we got boxed by a driver not really in this race, causing us to finish P6 instead of at least P5. When Matt, steaming red in the face and fuming like an enraged bull, ripped off his helmet after the checkered and ran up the garages to find Hughes, ripping into him for being such a jack-ass. His response: "I'm racing my race, you race yours". No toffees for Warren Hughes. In fact, such short sighted selfishness has a habit in racing of coming around and biting you right in the area you depended on for that kind of thinking instead of your brain. What a waste of space he's turned out to be, running as the Pro driver for a nice Dutch friend called Rem Berg.
So no podium for us today, but of the 3 United Autosports cars, the Audi finished once again in the top 10, though our championship position slipped from 2nd to 4th as this 2 hour race was awarded 1.5x the normal points. I too slipped in the Gentlemen Blancpain championship from 1st to 3rd. Two venues to go and 3 races left to complete, so the field is wide open, especially after the leading team going into today's race, David Ashburn's polka dot Porsche, had some awkward moments on track but a really bad one in pit lane overshooting his pit/garage area and blocking the pit boxes of 2 competitors also trying to conduct driver changes. Not Ashburn's finest hour, but others stood ready to reach for his crown as he stumbled.
There were faces to draw during fan signing sessions, when guests enjoyed the UAS hospitality and even tonight in London at Ciro's Pomadoro. One's attached for fun of Greg Wong, someone I'd never heard of before. In the tiny world of coincidences, he and I originate from the same little coastal industrial town called Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Freaky. He left for London in 1969 and we left for New York in 1976. In those days, Greg's family and ours were legally prevented from socializing due to apartheid laws. Leaving South Africa at 12 he said he didn't understand the invasively destructive force of racism, until he attended a British boarding school as the only Chinese student in the school. Lovely.
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