Either the NH hotel windows haven't been cleaned in a while or the coastal morning haze, not really a mist, lay heavy on the shore when the alarm rang loud at 7 AM this morning. Good sign, no rain, but the lapping quiet of the lake had improved all the way to 1 to 2 foot waves, imitating a real beach.
Matt and I were brimming with confidence as I took the 9:25 AM Am Driver Quali session and he took the 10:00 AM Pro category head on. I got scrambled into a group of 5 cars right from the start, 3 of which were GT4 category cars as I warmed the tires on the out lap. Two choices: fall back right away to look for some space, or gallop on through them and make your own space. I chose the latter halfway round the warm up lap and immediately noticed small sprinkles on the windshield, a very welcome sign at a cup cake factory, but not on slick tires during qualifying. Determined to rid ourselves of the interfering GT4 cars coming through the final corner (Turn 13 where on test day I'd speared the Audi into the metal armco railing), I went as fast as possible and was certainly making good progress closing the gap, guaranteeing I'd pass them all on the front straight. Then the car tried to imitate the test day maneuver as the sprinkles had laid down a slick enough wet layer or the tires weren't hot enough - either way, I was left with no choice but to start slapping away at the steering wheel like a little old lady trying to put out a small fire. Must have looked completely reactionary on the in-car video, and certainly felt ridiculous, but this time I did manage to prevent the head-on crash, though lost the only quick lap available and the chance to pass the GT4s. The first half dozen GT3 cars managed a quick lap in those initial almost dry conditions and parked their cars, sitting on 1 minute 42s to 45s and all I could manage as the drizzle kept coming down, was a 48 and finished P16, or halfway through the field. Results and expectations had not come together in any meaningful way today and not qualifying well on a tight track with real rainy weather predicted for the entire 4 PM race on Sunday made for a morbid data review session. Fortunately the crowd of cars who pitted early broke the simplest of qualifying rules (8 cars, importantly, 3 in front of us): everyone needs to complete a minimum of 3 timed laps. Many looked at the weather conditions and parked in the pits happy with one quick lap in the books. Engineer's error, not the driver, but all 8 were moved back 5 grid spots, elevating us to a lofty P13 where at least through the muck, grime, dust and dirt, you can sort of almost make out the green starter lights when the race goes live.
Matt ignored his partner's poor outcome and went out on slicks hoping for no more misty rain. Others went out of rains and came back in halfway through the stint to switch to slicks and coincidentally ended up with race tires less worn out than those who started on slicks. At the end of the second stint, drivers will be feeling that difference in terms of grip towards the end of the hour-long races. Matt did well early on in Quali with a P3 standing but as more cars came in to switch to slicks, a few were able to pop up the chart towards the end of the session, leaving us in P7. One car slightly ahead of us has a 5 grid-spot penalty, so we'll probably start the 2nd race (Sunday), in P6. Understanding the simpletons in race control has it's challenges and its limits, so we'll see what happens at noon tomorrow, but we'll be starting out in a reasonable spot from which Matt can attack and we know that the car is good here at Zandvoort. In the dry. So a mix of reasonable and unreasonable luck leaves us with work to do in these 2 penultimate races if we're going to chase the front 3 teams for this British GT championship title.
Glynn Geddie took to the track at noon for the Dutch Super Car race, ignoring any and all calming advice from the wall, stomping the will from all the competition in clear track or high traffic conditions. Won the 1 hour race hands down in his black McLaren by a margin of more than 30 seconds. The Dutch announcer, thrilled to be interviewing this Scottish dare devil race driver, posed slightly accented questions in English and couldn't follow a single Sco'ish werd tha' fell f'om Glynn's mooth. The announcer simply proceeded to the next question as if whatever rapid-fire nonsense had fallen onto the microphone made sense to someone in the crowd.
Race 1 started cleanly with a howling roar of engines from cars bunched very closely together for a text-book green flag beginning....if you ask race control or the gaping crowd desperate to see too many cars too close together all aiming like lasers at one little braking point right before the cramped entry to Turn 1. However, if you ask the drivers, these perfect two-by-two starts where everyone's unfortunately been paying attention at the same time are almost always destined to ruin a few pairs of pants down in Turn 1. It's a wonderful sensation knowing that flat out in 5th gear staring into a battery of bucking Porsche, BMW, Mercedes and Ferrari rear ends, just one driver mistiming the braking zone can cause an amazing amount of wreckage and render a multitude or racing plans absolutely useless. No one goofed. Not badly. I stayed to the inside line and unfortunately the Merc in front of me couldn't get through tidily enough, having to slam the brakes again at the apex, giving those on the outside line a marginal benefit going back to power at the exit to Turn 1. This allowed 2 cars to mess with my head and my position in the race, but fortunately Serbian birthday boy David Ashburn, busy with a weight loss experiment by starting to smoke heavily, had an engine malfunction by Turn 3, so we were down just one position a few corners later.
The race stayed dry and we stayed stuck behind a Ginetta GT3 with great straight line speed (so we couldn't make the pass into Turn 1), but who also held us up in all other corners by more than a second a lap. Really frustrating knowing we were jammed in an untenable place while GT3 cars immediately in front of the Ginetta were very good take-over targets for the Audi. Then our luck turned golden. A GT4 car found the outside to Turn 13 at least as aggressively as I had in testing, but did a much better job of ensuring that car will never race again. Total mayhem, so out came the Safety Car and the World War II bomb disposal squad as it was going to be a long one - trucking the large remnant parts of the car away, sweeping the track, laying down anti-oil powder and repairing the tire wall. After 8 or 9 tedious laps it looked like, by a hair, we may be able to pit on the lap the Safety Car's lights went out and get a head start on the Pro driver stint - I'd been protecting the tires for Matt, so we'd have a real shot at this race, despite the initial tough qualifying position.
Sure enough, Engineer Erik called me in, through the final 2 corners counting down the seconds to the earliest point we could pit. The front of the line had no choice but to pass pit-in and continue racing (or they have served a penalty for pitting a few seconds early). A few cars in front of me and behind me pitted like synchronized dolphins in unison and made the line with a few seconds in the pocket. Looking good, really good. Flawless 26 second driver change and Matt was released with 5 seconds to go (the time measured from our pit box to pit-out as precisely 1 minute, the mandated minimum pit stop). It's about here that our gilt-edge luck turned to rusted brass. For some inexplicable reason the pit lights were still red, so re-entry by rule is not allowed. 4 or 5 cars parked at the red light, held up 5 seconds or more while race control and the PhD with his finger on the green light/red light button sorted out their incompetence before releasing us onto the track. Just in case you think I'm making a mole hill out of a mountain over the this pocketful of perfectly timed tactical seconds we'd stolen from the front runners, we re-entered the race in P16. Re-entering if the pit lights had been green, which they should have been, Matt would have re-started in P3 or P4, totally changing the outcome of the race and the standings in the British GT championship. Amsterdam's red light district may have brought levity and relief to many a lonely sailor and to a small handful of young men too shy to experiment for free, but this little red light left us angry and disabused of any notion of competence and fairness at Zandvoort.
It's at times like this that you pull your socks up, shut your trap and do the best you can with the oily sardines on your plate when you thought you'd ordered the best Japanese tuna sashimi available. Matt drove like a disciplined nut case, the car gave him a stable platform at speed, the traffic almost manageable, so he picked off positions here and there, improving his relative lap times to the leaders till we found ourselves not only in the top 10, but holding onto the race's single fastest lap time (1:42.6). In time he was tucked up behind another great young BRDC driver with a big nose, Joe Osborne, and eventually managed even that pass after multiple unsuccessful attempts. Up front the top 5 cars all drove aggressively and cleanly, but with enough discipline to avoid crashing, which was unfortunate. The only car we had to be wary of was Warren Hughes in Rem Berg's matte-black Audi which had suffered an early flat tire but we're on a tear to score points in the final dozen laps. When the checkered flag was lowered over the leading Porsche (Caine-Al Harthy) all of he top seven entrants were less than 5.5 seconds apart. Matt was in P7. That little red mole hill took P1 or P2 away from us today. We had been 4th in the championship and now probably slip back to 5th as a result of simple ineptitude by stewards and officials who I'm told are not on this blog list, but we will shortly find out if that's true, I'm sure. By 7 PM we'd left the track and there were still no official results for this race. All we know is that the there has been some shuffling of positions in the championship and a significant tightening of the spread between the top 5 or 6 cars contending for what Autosport will write about for the 2013 British GT Champions.
Tomorrow's race is scheduled for noon and the weather is scheduled to bring lots of rain. Matt will take the front half of the race and I will sweep up the last half hour.
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