The sheer delight of lithroscopy surgery (kidney stone blasting for those who didn't attend medical school with me back in the 70s) defies description and to ensure you have no memory of the experience, hospitals insist on anesthesia or just full blown euthanasia, your choice, so you're out for the count by the time they wheel in the large digital ultra-sound device that is limited by law and the laws of kidney survival, to no more than 2,500 blasts. It's sort of like strapping your kidney to Ali or Frazier's heavy bag for a few rounds of training - eventually the tough little kidney stones break apart into parts small enough that tubes not build to pass them, do, and with as little discomfort as possible, if you don't object to the sight of lots of blood. That's the theory. 2 days after pulling through their euthanasia attempt, I cycled around the Catskill Mountains for 15 miles, including a non-stop 5 mile climb up a mountain pass that didn't help any stones pass, but certainly raised my respect for those fruitcakes who voluntarily attack the Tour de France every year. Insane.
These past two weeks have not been fun with the post-op no results, constant pain and discomfort from the 14 inch stent they insert up the only place the can find that leads backwards all the way back into your kidneys. I'm drinking water like never before, am somehow still dehydrated (which helps make more stones more quickly) and struggling to find the motivation to stay in shape for racing. My wife's new nickname for me is The Quarry. Not exactly what team manager Richard Dean wants to hear as we mount a championship recovery race as important as this double scoring weekend at the Stone.
With all that as backdrop, what a joy to jump into Free Practice 1 this morning and find the car well set up and able to handle Matt Bell and my best efforts to throw it off the track. We had some snap oversteer issues early on in 3rd and 2nd gear medium pace corners, which most drivers find distracting and in some cases, causes spins and crashes. Spinning without any help is embarrassing, but getting hammered by a Pro driver in a twin turbo Nissan under a big braking zone (5th down to 2nd gear), is just plain irritating. Fortunately he only punched the side bodywork and I could restart the car and get back on track. Soon Matt was back in the car and working with an improved set up, when he too got smashed into by the very same Nissan, this time in the hands of Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, their Am driver. Oy vey. Except for his royal status and thighs like Schwarzenegger, we would have bopped him on the nose. They also occupy the garage next door to us and didn't even have the courtesy to come over an apologize for one or both these incidents. We have de-Sirred him, but he doesn't know that yet. Streaky, head mechanic and a Dad on December 16, had to repair the front right wheel steering bolts which had been bent beyond safe driving conditions.
With engineer Gary's input and analysis, we made 3 or 4 small changes in the set up and went out in Free Practice 2 to find the car handling essentially perfectly. Matt was first out, but on the out lap 2 cars mushed themselves into pulp, causing a red flag stoppage of all this fun stuff, especially so massive amounts of white powder could be strewn across the Maggots-Becketts curves to cover up the long oil spill. Both of us liked the new set up once things got going, but I noticed a huge vibration in the car and presumed Matt had flat spotted a tire and just refrained from sharing the good news with me. Turns out even with a fresh set of tires the distracting vibration was still noticeable, so while we took our times down to competitive in our respective classes (I think Matt was 3rd or 4th), it turns out that our right rear wheel bearing was sick and tired of bearing anything after I'd been hit by Sir Oy Vey's Pro driver and it was just getting progressively looser and would at some point simply come apart, which is the middle of some of Silvertone's high G-force corners, may be more thrilling than we'd paid for.
Ollie Goddard, one of our London office investment pros, and his Australian girlfriend Maddie, had come to spend the day freezing their tousches off under very grey but never rainy clouds, learning what a race team does to avoid suicide every weekend. They watched the 4 PM qualifying stints from the BRDC's clubhouse, courtesy of Richard Dean's fame, fortune and his spare passes. Instantly those who had been sandbagging in the practice sessions, decided to release their full capability, producing 2 minute 1 second laps, 1-2 seconds better than anyone had seen all day. Matt had a solid 2 minute 2.9 second lap and was up 0.45 seconds in just the first sector of his next flying lap when the rubber on his left rear Avon tire decided it too would go flying, destroying the lap entirely that might have had us in the top 5 or 6 starters among the Pros.
The starting grid is formed by the average of the Pro and Am qualifying times. Matt Bell had spent a lot of time scaring the chicken out of me on some of the fast technical stuff, so early in the session we found some reasonable times and in both final flying laps I was nicked by traffic but still managed a 2:05.2 and a 2:05.6 lap, comfortably better than my best practice times, but still leaving 2 to 4 valuable tenths on the track under some sloppy traffic conditions. Combined we end up starting tomorrow's race in P8 as I was 4th among the slow pokes, but this weekend already feels like, despite some hits and flats, we're getting our mojo back. Tomorrow will tell if that's just pure speculation or not. The little glossy English racing program says there are 38 cars racing tomorrow and it sure felt like it (24 GT3s and 14 GT4s), easily our largest grid of the season. Should be a blast, but not 2,500 of them again.
Radio Le Mans did announce today that Mark Patterson was unable to attend the pre-race practice weekend in France, I was told, because he had a conflicting race competition at Silverstone. How right they were. If I hadn't completed the mandatory rookie test last year, I would not be able to start the 24 Race there in 2 weeks. So my two RAM partners are stealing all the lap times there today and tomorrow, and will give me a disproportionate amount of seat time leading up to Qualifying in 2 weeks time. Can't wait for tomorrow and can't wait for Le Mans.
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