“C’mon! what the fuck is going on?” Screamed Danny through his helmet. The only person who could hear his anger was his pit manager, oh and the hundreds and thousands of viewers watching the live telecast going out across the nation.
It was the opening race of the Touring Car season, billed as the biggest opening race in years and Danny Holmes was doing his best live up to that mantra. It was a gruelling 135 lap race around the streets of Markstown, a canyon of unforgiving concrete walls that radiated heat and often felt like they were closing in after so many circuits of the place.
Being built on city streets the circuit was well maintained and regularly resurfaced but things like man hole covers and dips could be an issue for drivers slightly off line. Another potential problem were the line markings needed for traffic control when the roads weren’t a race track, on slick tyres they could easily make a car slip offline but in the wet they could turn the track into an ice skating rink. Because of the tight city streets the track also had very few run off areas and often one little mistake meant unrepairable damage and a DNF chalked up against the drivers name.
But these guys were professional drivers, they were paid to excel at driving their cars on the edge and pushing themselves and their machines to the limit no matter what the conditions. They’d bitch about how hard it was, bitch about how incompetent others around them could be, and bitch about the conditions, but at the end of the day it was their job and they were paid handsomely for that job.
Danny was hoping to give his fans something to cheer about and going home from the first race with a top podium place was the only thing he was focused on. Being held on jacks in the pits while several of the pit crew lay on the ground looking under his car was not helping him win the race, making things worse was the fact that he was sitting in the pits because he was pushed into the wall.
He was only on the third lap of 135 around the infamous street circuit which meant he had time to catch up if he got out quickly, but things were not looking good when he couldn’t even get an answer from his pit manager Dave.
“Dave, what the fuck is going on?”
“They’re checking Danny, hold steady.”
“Hold steady, we’ve got a race to win.”
“And we’re not going to win it with a bent steering arm! They can’t find anything wrong but they want to make sure.”
In the pit and on jacks even seconds could win or lose a race and Danny was probably half a lap down, he needed to get out before the lead driver came back past the pits.
“Of course there is something fucking wrong, the car’s pulling to the left since Fittzy ran me into the wall on turn three. Fucker ought to be penalised for such a dick move.”
“Calm down Danny, let the stewards handle the racing we’ll handle the car. Ok they are reporting no bent steering arms. Lowering you in three, two, go!”
Danny knew his cue and with a squeal of tyres and puff of rubber smoke he took off almost instantly hitting the pit lane speed limiter.
“Ok Danny, you’re going to come out well in front of the Fittzy, keep it straight, keep it in front of Fittzy and race like you mean it, we’ll get it back next safety car. Keep it cool and remember the pre-race debrief.” Dave spoke clearly and as concise as he could into the microphone, partly to make sure Danny understood what he was saying but mainly so as not to distract Danny for too long.
Danny didn’t need to reply for the team to know he understood the message, he had a call button on the steering wheel that allowed him to signal them when he heard the message. Danny knew the debrief and one of the contingencies they had discussed was coming from last position because it was a fact of life. Whether it be through mechanical fault, driver fault or in Danny’s case his main rival pushing him into the wall fighting from the back of the pack was something all race teams planned for. Danny murmmed to himself as he battled on.
Something else that was discussed in the pre-race debrief, and the drivers meeting, and during the off season, and during the previous season was swearing and the number of drivers that were doing it during the race telecast. For Danny’s little outburst in the pits he could be assured a visit to the racing judiciary later in the week but he didn’t care, he’d just cop another fine, which the team would pay, and be told to keep his mouth in check.
For Danny the racing gods must have been shining down on him because as he rounded the second last corner of the track on his 30th lap, still the lead lap, a yellow flag was called, a car had been run into the wall on turn seven and the safety car would be deployed. In 27 laps thanks to a quick splash and dash for a top up of fuel to get him off the lead driver’s pit strategy, some excellent passing manoeuvres and a few cars dropping off the pace Danny had managed to get back up to 10th position. But the biggest help to Danny’s race prospects was that when the yellow flag was called five out of the top 10 racers had passed the finished line and couldn’t take advantage of the yellow flag to make a pit run.
Danny on the other hand took the advantage, it meant his pit crew had to scramble to get ready for an unscheduled tyre change but like the drivers they too were pros. As a part of race regulations all drivers had to complete two fuel stops and one tyre change in the 135 laps and those stops had to fall between lap 27 and lap 117. With a revised pit schedule Danny’s team had planned to do the tyre change and fuel stop around lap 45 but seeing the yellow flag and the open pit window Dave made the call for Danny to pull in. As the team scurried to get ready and Danny pulled into the pit lane three of five cars ahead of him that could pull in drove past the pit entrance.
On the radio Danny could hear Dave giving him the the instruction to pull in, stop on the line, keep his foot on the brake, out of gear and wait for four tyres an fuel. Again it was instruction that were given to make sure all those in the crew knew what was going on not as an order.
The car in front of Danny pulled off and into his own pit seven garages before Danny and as Danny motored on the rev limiter he listened to Dave’s instructions. Again Danny played the waiting game and when he was released he was ahead of the car he’d followed into the pits.
With the pack of cars sitting behind the pace car Danny took off to catch up, he had to maintain race yellow conditions but providing he didn’t overtake anyone he could tag onto the back of the pack with no dramas. News from the pits what that the yellow flag would easily last three laps and with the teams all scrambling in the pits to get themselves ready for the pit stop Danny was hopeful for a great outcome thanks to a very lucky safety car interval.
When the safety car crossed the start/finish line all but 12 cars pulled into the pits trying to take whatever advantage they could of the yellow flag situation. Of the 12 cars Danny was fifth in line, but he was also the first car that had completed his required tyre stop so effectively he was in first position. It also meant that Fittzy and the other leaders who’d passed the pit entrance before the yellow was dropped would be re-joining the behind the current 12 cars on the track, they’d no doubt catch up to the pack before the safety car left the field but Danny would have a good seven or eight car buffer between himself and the faster cars.
Half way through the next lap the safety car lights went off indicating that the car would be pulling into the pits and racing would resume when the lead driver next crossed the start/finish line. To Danny’s surprise three out of the leading four cars, who would be slower on the track and were no doubt making racing room for the faster leaders, pulled into the pits behind the safety car for their compulsory stop.
Rounding the last corner Danny was right on the rear bumper of the car in front of him, he knew he couldn’t pass the car before the start finish line but there was nothing against slip streaming him then shooting out intermediately after the line and rounding up the car before the braking section of the first corner. It wasn’t an overly risky move providing the lead car didn’t slow down or weave across the track to stop the move. Even if Danny did miss his cue slightly he knew could pass under brakes in the first chicane providing he was on the left hand side and half a car length in front. It was a riskier move and one that required him to go deeper into the corner without breaking than his opponent but it was a move he’d practised time and time again and one he was good at.
Ahead of him Danny could see the steward on the side of the track waving the flag to resume the race. The lead car took off but Danny was onto it and went with him. They were bumper to bumper, barely enough room for a coat of paint between, speeding up, going past 160kph, Danny could feel the pull of the car in front and he knew when he pulled left and out of the slip stream he’d shoot ahead and into the lead all he had to do was hold it steady behind the Ford until they crossed the line.