Race Car spelled backwards

Can't be done.  Just the mirror image.  Spells the same damn thing.  A genius I grew up with in coastal Port Elizabeth, South Africa, who has never raced a car in his life but is definitely a racist, just pointed out that I can't spell Race Car backwards without spelling the same damn words.  Am I the last person in racing to know this?

What you can do is move backwards in racing, which I managed to do in Qualifying at Oulton Park today (Saturday), but lots happened before the United Autosports team arrived with its bevy of beauties in this year's uncharacteristically wintry clime: two McLarens and the Audi R8 all tricked out in new trim and of course the UPS logo on both McLarens commemorating Zak's latest commercial success in Formula One.

I left Thursday night from Newark, NJ, on United Airlines to Birmingham's airport, just a short hour and a bit from Murphy Prototypes' shop in Brackley, where I was due for a seat fitting at 8 AM.  Delays on Flight 26 from Newark, though, caused the seat fitting to be delayed 3 hours or more, but any delays or deferral is better than the alternative, which is never.  After a weird, noisy, bumpy, uncomfortable take off and an immediate leveling off around 5,000 feet after the captain had been trying noisily to crank the undercarriage back into the fuselage, he announced that everything was normal and routine and we'd be returning to Newark for a quick check up.  Pilot captains are bastions of belief and credibility on good and uneventful flights.  They lie like drug dealers when something goes wrong.

So I drafted an email just in case to Greg Murphy and Brendon Hartley in Brackley, as we're doing a few European LMP2 races together this year, to suggest that I may be late or I may never show up , depending on how much the captain was lying.  Then I just left the Blackberry on knowing it would transmit the email once we got close to the ground, even if it was a bit of a serious crash.  It wasn't.  The front wheels indeed had refused to go up again as often happens with aging equipment I'm told, and United arranged another plane within 2 hours (not counting the hour flying towards England and back) to get us back on track, baggage on board etc, so it was completely uneventful in the end.

The 2 hour seat fitting ended up taking 5 hours, same delay as United but felt less risky, and fortunately they had a Sparco size 58 suit for me to use to go through the tedium of having a seat made.  There were acres and acres of excess green cloth, so we reduced my suit order size to 56, which is what Brendon wears and he really looks like he should be wearing a skinny suit like that.  His Kiwi F1 seat maker pal is as fastidious and careful as anyone could imagine, but was determined to build a seat that both the emaciated Brendon and the crippled, bent and creaky grandfather could use without an insert.  Now that's ambitious.  It's so tight a loud pop will echo across to the grandstands when I get in and out of that seat at Silverstone in a few weeks and there's every chance I may be propelled from the seat like a choker after the Heimlich maneuver, expelled from the cockpit like rubbish from your throat.

Exhausted and facing a 2.5-3 hour drive northwards to Tarporley near Oulton, I set out to become swallowed whole by the British on Easter weekend on their intricate motorway system where they all drive on the wrong side of the road without having lots of accidents.  It's always entertaining and sometimes even amusing to note the charming names of towns, inns, places and farms that must say something about the British but I haven't figured out what it is yet.  Not far from Brackley I passed through a small village barely worthy of a name it was so small; it was called Farthinghole.  It would take only a small pronunciation  error or a distracted sign painter to embarrass the entire community who would probably kick up a bit of a stink.  Mickle Trafford near Tarporley is a mouthful and in reverse is somewhat awkward too.  That's why Trafford has been reduced to one word.

Also striking as the drive wiggled north and westwards, was the substantial amount of snow on the surrounding farmers' fields.  The conditions are predicted to be dry for all 3 days but very cold, around 5 or 7 degrees (40+ degrees for the literate among us).  Last year at this time the temperatures were three times higher.

Our entire squad assembled around a large dining table on Friday night with famous not-so-fat-anymore Mark Blundell looking like a huge threat with stand-in speedster from New Zealand, via Russia via Monte Carlo and now via London, Roger Wills, who is standing in for the repairing Richard Miens in the repaired # 24 McLaren.  Zak and Glynn Geddie, with tattoos gracing his gladiator-like muscled frame looked scary too, but he always does.  Glynn is helping add some speed as McLaren pro driver Rob Bell is off for a day or two catching his first baby who deliberately stayed in the hatch longer than permitted, but Rob wasn't going to miss first little 10 pound 4 ouncer, Oliver, who popped out the next day about as easily as I'll be leaving the LMP2.  Easy for me to say.  The kid's a beauty with a perfectly symmetrical face and head despite no C-section.  I was expecting a Saturday Night Live conehead or something.

On Saturday we had 2 one hour practice sessions, with the first free practice at 9 and the second around noon.  Fresh new rubber (we use ovens of a sort) and a frozen track made for some interesting out laps.  By the second practice the quick fellows were dropping in 1 minute 35s.  For most of Matt's first session he was in the top 3, ending up around P6 for the session.  On his tires I was able to follow through on testing with some more than OK laps in the high 1:37 area and among non-pro drivers, top 2 or 3 in the first session.  In the afternoon, staying with the really old tires, I still found a high 37 but the laps were a lot more work by then, for sure.  However, this raised expectations for Qualifying.  Zak was in the mid-38s, Glynn a mid-36 and Matt on new tires, a 36 flat.  Goes without saying that a 33 car field on a narrow, undulating classic UK race track with barriers close by, traffic was an issue for everyone trying to find perfect times.

British GT has a mandatory schmuck driver Qualifying session for Race 1 (no pros) and a mandatory pro driver Qualifying immediately thereafter for Race 2 - both one-hour races on Monday this time.  So at 4:30 I held back 45 seconds in the pit box to try to find some open qualifying space as the hornets' nest of young drivers took off like the 15 minute stint was about to expire before it had even started.  Got 3/4s round the track to Druids and came upon an array of Ginetta parts, masses of grass and clay scattered across the track and lots of marshals urging everyone to slow down and avoid making a bigger mess out of one slightly too ambitious right foot in this cold air and so early in Quali.  The session was immediately red flagged which meant we'd have even a madder scramble for lap space on the remaining minutes.  Little did we know at that time that one of our McLarens, halfway round Lap 2 when the tires are really coming in, decided to snap loose coming out of the first chicane at Foulstons, only narrowly clipping the outside wall but at those speeds in 3rd gear, despite how much all drivers think their car needs more juice, it's pretty quick and the 24 car will not be able to be repaired in time for Monday's races.  For the first time it dawned on the entire team why Richard Miens had timed his own incident well in advance of the race so he could never be blamed for this.  Clever guy.

In the remaining green time we got the Audi tires up to trustworthy temperatures and chipped blocks of time off, but the driver unfortunately was having an extraordinarily hard time recalling all the advice Matt Bell had gratuitously poured into one ear before securing the other one.  The end result was only a 1 minute 38-flat lap, even with these new shoes and light fuel.  Very disappointing.  Good for P6 when I came in, but after everyone got their last lap done, down to P8.  Zak had more traffic than I did and was wallowing down in P20 until the very last lap and then pulled out all the stops but mine and ended up in P9 a millionth of a tenth behind the Audi.  Should make for an interesting start and our objective is to ensure there's a finish.  Mine is.  31 cars will take the green flag on Monday.

Quali 2 had all the hot-shoes out and about demonstrating why this mix of pro and non-pro teams when well administered, makes for great racing.  They were exceptionally fast with half a dozen 1:34s and even Glynn Geddie with a solid 1:36 had to be satisfied with P19.  Matt Bell was a bit disappointed with his P7 as his mid-1:35 was maybe half a second or more off his expectations.  So it is.

This track is unforgiving; it giveth and it taketh away.  We had our share.  I found the Cascades kitty litter in Practice 2 sliding sideways and powering through and lucky not to get stuck.  All these corners can grab you by the throat unexpectedly and shake your confidence to the core.  That's why we race here.  That and the team's hot cross buns (no, not attractive, angry British rear ends), toasted with butter and some English tea.  Marvelous, said the Queen.



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