Monday, September 3, 2007

Racing at 135 Mph on a parking Lot

It was going to be a regular-to-lazy Sunday, but on Saturday my university and motorcycling friend Roberto (a.k.a Billo, a.k.a El Flaco) stopped by to return a borrowed motorcycle driving book called "A twist of the wrist..." which I needed to lend to another motorcycling buddy.

"My hand is greasy" he greeted me, returning the book with the left hand. After shaking the greasy hand I asked what had been the problem. Like me, Billo has a life long affair with all mechanical things, and half of that time usually is spent fixing those things. But this time I was wrong... "I'm racing a Formula 3 tomorrow" he said like he was going to ride a bike in the morning "in a circuit they've put toghether in the parking lot of a huge vegetable wholesale market" he added to add a little originality to this otherwise ordinary weekend schedule.

For those who don't know, a Formula 3 racer is like a cross between a Kart and a F1 race car. It has the looks of an F1 and the simplicity of a Kart, and this particular one can reach 135 Mph (217 Kph) at the end of a short (650 mt) straight in a bumpy parking lot with concrete barriers as track walls.

As there are guys that are babe magnets... El Flaco is a speed magnet, he loves cars so much, and hangs around them so much, and drives them so well... he gets offered this kind of thing, "Hey the driver of this car is sick / or thinks the circuit is sick, would you like to drive this?"
He hesitates for 1/1000th of a second and says yes, then starts calling possible sponsors, including his ever supporting and understanding wife Andrea (he was wise enough to marry a child psychologist).

So, after a little talking with my family he handed me two pit-pass bracelets and we agreed to meet on the track on Sunday around noon. The next day our two families and our mutual friend-kart-racer-photographer Sacha were on the track to cheer for El Flaco.
We weren't sure what to expect, the previous day the car wasn't ready for qualifying and he just turned one lap, which is long enough to discover your brakes are all sorted wrong and one of the wheels is loose and coming off. So he turned a few laps in a borrowed car, similar to the one he was going to race (for those of you who are not into racing this is completely useless aside from sightseeing). He proudly qualified for the last place of the grid.

But things like these are common with El Flaco: the last time he was up on a Formula 3 in Buenos Aires a couple of years ago, he lost the brake pedal at the end of the 160 Mph straight and saved the car and and the day without hitting anything solid - if we agree that track flaggers are not solid.

Meanwhile we saw Supermotard races and Formula Nissan (stripped down Tiidas) race a couple of series before the F3 cars had their turn. As the responsible parents we are we used these minutes to feed the kids with avocados, cheese, apples and hot-dogs, the only trackside food we could find... as the resposible parents had forgotten to bring any food. But the hot-dogs were pretty good.

Back to the racing: during the sunday morning practice Roberto had the luxury of turning ten laps in the actual car he was going to race and discovered the brakes were still wrong, but in an entirely different way, and a tire was so worn you could almost see the air inside it.

He didn't had any lap times because the speedo-device fell down (nope, not making any of this up) so they duct taped it very secure this time.. And a few seconds before the warmup lap, with him already packed in the driver seat, the most senior of the mechanics crew discovered the rear wing was loose (mostly sideways, nothing serious) so they quickly strapped it with wires to the axle, in an X made out of wire, ingenuity and a last minute lack of shame.

So with this instant F3 racer he accelerated to catch the pack who had already left the grid and dissapeared into the warm-up lap. We all ran with kids in the other direction to the end of the straight corner where we were supposed to see all the action. And action we saw, after the pace car learned the track in four painfully long laps it retired and let the race begun: after one lap our friend had gained two places, and then another, and in two laps more he got off the track in that very same action-packed corner, spit a two feet flame of oil through the exhaust, made a 270º left turn on a cloud of dirt and returned to the track loosing all three places, and we lost a few seconds of breath.

A few turns later he did the same exit-270º left-return maneuver, but this time withouth flames... and returned to the track for the third time (he was later credited as being as persitent as Wile E. Coyote). On the next turn he managed not to get off the track, or crash into a car that had hit the concrete barrier on the now infamous corner. Three of four laps later the race finished, the race leader had crashed in the back of the circuit into another wall and Roberto had managed to avoid him also, by driving in and out of an empty warehouse.

Six cars out of eleven finished the race, among them the El Flaco posted the fifth lap time. After driving only ten laps in the morning, and two years after his last F3 experience... The pro drivers were congratulating him and he has an offer to drive in a team that is not sponsored by duct tape, wires or bondo (this may take out some of the emotion).
After the race each of us posed for pictures in the unlikely unharmed F3, and we all went to have burgers with the kids and wives at an overcrowded shopping mall nearby.

It was going to be a regular-to-lazy Sunday...
Thanks Buddy. MM.

1 comment:

Billo said...

Racing-wise, it should have been a better weekend. Even though I was lucky to bring the car (and myself!) to the finish line in one (shaky) piece, some track time on Saturday would have been nice, and a decently balanced braking system by the race, much, much nicer.

Now, as far as hanging out with fond buddies and family is concerned, it just doesn’t get any better.