Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Great Adventure

Trying to condense what was arguably the best two weeks of my life into an acceptable size blog is going to be a hard task so excuse me if this turns into a bit of an epic.   Even finding a place to start is proving difficult!

Obviously going somewhere new and so far from home was a little daunting but as soon as I stepped off the plane in Cape Town and felt the heat I knew my decision to leave a wet and dark UK behind for a couple of weeks was the right one!  Due to being the most disorganised bunch of people in the world we couldn’t all manage to get on the same flight so the first two hours was spent doing several runs to the airport to collect everyone.  Altogether there were eight of us on the trip; the man himself Deane Wood, Paul Frost, Stuart McLaird, Kym Weaver, his father Hughie, his mechanic and friend Smiffy , Trevor Dibnah from the 2-litre Stock Cars and myself.

Our first port of call was to collect our transport for the week, a brand new minibus lent to us by the local Hyundai garage.  It had been sign-written with our names and UK racing team down the side.  From here it was straight to the track offices to meet everyone and let them see exactly what they’d let themselves in for!

The racing in South Africa is run very differently to here and the Monday before every race meeting all the drivers have to go to a meeting at the track to draw grid positions and just have a general briefing about how the race will be run.  After getting lost a few times we finally managed to arrive pretty late!  It was a good chance to get to meet all the other drivers and find out a bit about what we would be doing.  What anyone failed to tell us was that after the meeting finishes the bar stays open and everyone stays and gets drunk, something that surprisingly enough suited us all down to the ground.

The next day it was time to have a look at the cars we would be racing.  Now the principle of the cars is similar to ours but obviously as they are racing on dirt they have lots of differences too, the biggest of these is the tyres.  Although there are no rules on tyres everyone chooses to run a 15-inch Dunlop road tyre.  The cars had Corsa shells which had all been painted and sign-written to look like our cars from home.  The car I was going to race had a Mazda rotary engine under the bonnet but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Practice was arranged for the Thursday evening so we could get a bit of seat time in the cars.  The track isn’t dissimilar to something you would see Sprint Cars racing on in America - it is much bigger than any track we drive on in the UK and is made up of clay.  As the meeting goes on and it dries out it packs down like tarmac giving more and more grip each race.  Due to the heat they spend all week watering the track so it doesn’t just rip up into one giant dust cloud as soon as a car puts a wheel onto it!

Now as soon as I pulled onto the track I scared the absolute life out of myself!  The noise and speed from a rotary is incredible, it sounds like there are twenty engines revving as soon as you touch the throttle!  This coupled with the fact they don’t slow down when you lift off the throttle makes it an altogether very scary experience!  I’ll be honest with you all and say that in truth I was pretty rubbish at the whole racing thing and struggled a bit to adapt to the flat-out sideways driving style of the dirt racing . . . but what an amazing experience it was to drive round that track.  I will just say that Deane was on a mission and having only done a few laps he was throwing his car around the track as fast as any of the South African guys!  We do all forget that he was actually a world champion on shale - albeit before most of us were even born!

After the practice it was straight into the bar for another night of chaos.  Unfortunately we had made a reputation for ourselves on the first night so we could hardly let it slip now!  The way of life is so different there and although everyone takes the racing very seriously they always meet in the bar afterwards for a chat and everyone gets along without any of the nastiness we seem to get here.

Saturday arrived and it was time for race day.  I know we have some keen fans at home but these guys were mad for it and the stadium was packed out by 1pm.  Lots of the spectators were keen to chat so we spent a long time talking to folk before it all got started at 6pm.  In the international race there were twelve South Africans, three Namibians and the six of us.  After the grand parade we all headed out on our parade laps before stopping at race control for the national anthems to be played and to meet the South African Minister for Sport.  Looking around the stadium you could see it was packed and the atmosphere was like the World Final at Ipswich.

You line up for the race in the pits, then pull out onto the track and do one rolling lap before the green flag drops.  Now one thing I will say is the drivers have so much more respect for each other than we do back at home and there is very little contact because they give each other enough room to pass cleanly.  It’s also the only time I have ever felt old at racing as some of the guys out there racing us were just 14 and 15 years old.   Watching them throw the cars sideways through the corners was pretty impressive.   The car control they will have when they get older will be something amazing.

I kept myself out of trouble and finished all the races but like I said I didn’t perform any miracles.  Deane was flying only to be hampered with an engine failure, Kym was on a mission as well but also suffered a few car problems, Paul was flying and ended up fifth overall at the end of the night.  Stu was having a good night as well but unfortunately Trevor had to retire due to a snapped steering arm.  One thing I did have to show for my night though was a very burnt leg! The exhaust of the rotary runs right up the tunnel and I have never felt heat like it in my life!

After the meeting there is a big trophy presentation in the bar and I’m sure you don’t need to be a genius to figure out where this is all going!  It turned into a very epic night that ended up with lots of water and ice being thrown around and a very wet ride back to the hotel in the minibus!

We didn’t just spend two weeks solid racing and drinking - we went out and did the tourist stuff too.  We took a trip up Table Mountain (something I would recommend to anyone), visited Robben Island and went on boats trips and spent quite a bit of time at the Cape Town Waterfront.  We had a great time but if I was to go into detail about everything we did we would be here all week and I‘d miss the first meeting at Birmingham!

That in a nutshell was our first week.  Instead of making this too long I’m going to split it into two parts and come back next week and tell you all about the second week of our trip and more exciting racing.

One thing I would like to say before I go is “Thank you so much” to everyone who voted for me to win Most Improved Driver at our awards night recently.  It really means a lot to me.  That was another very eventful night and I will no doubt get round to putting that into a blog soon!

Thank as ever for reading.

Until next time


No comments:

Post a Comment