If your boyfriend always give you excuses, encourage him to race in F1. A bright career might be awaiting. As a layman, I used to think the fastest driver wins the race, quite naturally. Not until I joined the Aylezo Lotus Supercup Series, racing alongside with other GT cars in Asian Festival of Speed, do I realize there are so many variables that could screw up a win. What I once thought to be excuses, turned out to be real issues that are really out of the driver's hands. It turned out I too had my own bag of “excuses”. I got into the race quite unwittingly. At first I only saw an unbelievably good deal. I reviewed my accounts and the projected expenses only amount to the cost of several sets of tires. I hopped onto it, and it turned out to be my best motorsports experience yet.
In Round 1, a fellow competitor's green Lotus broke down. He was leading. In Round 2, he had a huge lead again, and then the safety car was deployed and everyone else caught up. Did I mention I was part of the reasons why the safety car was deployed? More about that later. The green Lotus managed to pull ahead again. Then his rhythm was interrupted by a stream of brutally faster GT3 class cars that lapped him. He spun out.
It's because of uncertainties like these that gave me the advantage in Round 1. The competitor dicing with me spun under pressure. I became 4th. I knew, comparing lap times from practice, that was probably the best I could manage. When the race was over and I pitted in, I was ready to enter the Parc Ferme. But the marshal directed me to join the winning cars! I was delighted yet perplexed. No way I was faster, I thought. Where's the other faster driver? Did his car break down or was he involved in any incidents? It turned out in the heat of the race, he overtook a car during yellow flag. Pitting time was miscalculated too. He was slapped with drive-through penalty twice. Hence, I “sneaked” into third position. It was the first time ever I stood on the Sepang podium. Up there, it felt like I've just conquered the Himalayas.
It felt that way physically too. I thought a 40-minute race was merely a sprint race. Easy. Andy Windebank, our team manager (or the guy who knew everything), explained it could be considered an endurance race. I didn't think it could be that exhausting. I didn't even bother to arrange for drinking water during the 75-second pit stop. The time's too short for a drink, so I thought. I wanted to rush out and race. In the second half of the race, fatigue set in. My hand and feet were sore. My concentration was lapsing. When was it going to end? I pushed myself forward. I felt so relieved when I finally saw the checkered flag. Yup, it was an endurance race to me alright.
I wasn't fast. I was slow but consistently slow. I took very little unnecessary risk. I passed as cleanly as possible. “Always present yourself when passing,” Ross Bentley said. (Unfortunately not every driver had such common sense). I pressured the Lotus in front preparing for it to make a mistake. It eventually spun out and I overtook it. In retrospect, I was cool. Because when the car in front spun out in Turn 7, I felt like I had all the time in the world to switch to an evasive line. Which meant I was in control of the car near the limit — I was better. One of the people I had to thank was Adian Yein. I used his Saturday Night Fever night race as a platform to practice racing. There I'd trained to calm my racing heartbeats and keep a cool mind. I looked further ahead and improved my situational awareness. No more tunnel vision and red mist. I had time to look out for the flags, check my my mirrors and gauges. If only there's a place to store a shaver in the little Lotus, I might have just enough time to shave too.
That night, I reviewed the different advice given by the champion in Round 1, the sixteen-year old Tan Wei Ron (aka Rocket Ron, nicknamed so by Andy after he did 2:37s and consecutive 2:38s runs), and professional racing driver Denis Lian. The gearings recommended by both were quite different. With Wei Ron's approach, I shaved 3 seconds off. But Denis' approach would probably be the fastest ultimately, provided I could carry sufficient speed into corners. But I couldn't yet. I consulted my mentor, Ivan Khong. “In racing, you've got only one shot. Stick with what works for you now.” That's the approach I took in Round 2. Boy was I totally in the flow. I overtook an orange Lotus and led it by at least 2 seconds. Just as I saw I was keeping up with the top 4 cars, the orange Lotus understeered (or spun, as he later said) into my line and bumped me off.
I was furious. I had the right of way. At the braking point, I glanced at the mirror and deduced there was no way he could make it. At the speed he cut into my line, he was obviously not braking properly at all. Later, he claimed it was a brake failure. I would never know for sure. What I do know is this: if you can cook the brakes of a Lotus in 4 laps, you probably weight 400kg. And if you weight 400kg, you couldn't get into a Lotus. A photographer friend who witnessed the incident accounted it was due to understeering. “Oh you know, the kind of understeering you get when you brake 50 IQ points later.” We both stopped at the edge of the track. A Porsche saw us and slowed down, but most unfortunately for its driver, the Ford GT behind him did not. Both of them were taken out of the race. If you ever hear a Porsche driver complaining “I didn't finish the race because of a stupid Lotus”, or a Ford GT driver “… because of a stupid Porsche.”, I assure you, those aren't excuses. The same frustration burned inside of me.
My mind drifted a little, trying hard to recall about the regulations. I asked the marshals, “My car could still move, can I drive it back to the pit?” They said “of course”. I got back to pit and took a visual assessment of the damage. It seemed superficial.
Andy approached and asked me attentively, “Do you want to retire?”
I hesitated for half a second. I suddenly recalled there was once I stopped a game with my younger son Zi Ler. He accused me, in his 3-year-old logic: “You quit. You've got no sportsmanship.”
Then I said in a definite tone, “No, I am not retiring.” Andy said, “Ok.” and Andrew Yeoh, the Technical Director, took over. He and the mechanic team of Aylezo Motorsports commenced work on the car immediately. One taped up the broken shell quickly. The other inspected the damages. Meanwhile, Eline Leong brought me Gatorade. What felt like a century later, Andrew Yeoh came to me with a solemn face, “The oil hose (or something like that, I'm a layman) is bent. We could hook it out. But I'm afraid if you keep running, the oil might not circulate right, and the engine may be damaged.”
“Your call.” Andrew said. The two words still ring in my ears even now.
“Hook it out. I shall monitor the temperature. I am going out. I am finishing the race.” I said. I made a call. I was not going to let a minor incident shatter my spirits. I would not end a race with a DNF, when I still had the chance to complete it. I would not quit.
Andrew's team made a quick fix, asked me to apply throttle and monitor the temperature. It seemed stable. I was given the “Go!”. I charged out of the pit to a clear track. Only then I realized the safety car was deployed because of the incident (Sorry green Lotus). I screamed silently with joy and ran freely, hoping to catch up to the queue. I didn't make it in time, but collected the checkered flag nonetheless. The whole incident, from collision to completion of repair, took only 15 minutes. That's how amazing the Aylezo team was.
I completed 10 laps only compare to the 15 achieved by other competitors. I was in the last place. After collecting the checkered flag, I was cruising along the track. A trailing Aston Martin passed by. Its driver held his hand out from his window, and gave me a thumb's up.
And wasn't that gesture alone already my best trophy for the day?