RE: Ringside Seat: giant killers

RE: Ringside Seat: giant killers

Friday 25th October 2013

Ringside Seat: giant killers

Smell of champagne lingers on Dale's race suit after his latest VLN adventure



The mission is clear, the team orders still echoing in my helmet. If you want to win a trophy just try and stick with him for the next eight laps.

Easy to look steely with a full-face lid on...
Easy to look steely with a full-face lid on...
Eight laps of the Nurburgring VLN course. A little less than 120 miles. And all in a little over one hour and 20 minutes.

Warming the tyres for the rolling start along Dottinger Hohe I get a good look at our main rival for the 2.0-litre class win. The #519 car is a new Toyota GT86, prepared by the factory race shop TMG in the red/white national livery of Toyota Suisse Racing. Behind is another in the same spec, #517, piloted by celebrity hot-shoe Tim Schrick. That is actually the ‘works’ car, bearing TMG livery, both pulled from a single-make series and into the popular 2.0-litre class.

As we accelerate down the straight it’s obvious the next few laps won’t be easy. There’s a brief delusional moment where the quick-to-warm Yokohama tyres fool me into thinking I can overtake the Swiss GT86. But as we head out on to the Nordschleife I get my first taste of racing a 160hp MX-5 in a grid of 200hp cars. As the circuit opens out it feels like we just brought a knife to a gun fight.

The GT86 ahead pulls a gap, slipstreams the six-cylinder BMW ahead and moves to overtake. My heart drops. The little Mazda is flat out already and everybody is pulling away.

Little Mazda feels outpaced on the Nordschleife
Little Mazda feels outpaced on the Nordschleife
Through direction changes like Wipperman I can make up some ground. Taking chances with traffic, hoping the big GT3s don’t tap me out of the way, I make up some more ground. But on a clear lap, the faster Toyota pulls out 10 seconds on me. I don’t know where the other GT86 is, but I’m desperate to cling onto this second place.

After about 30 minutes of racing the GT86 is actually out of sight on all but the longest of straights,

the goal of pacing him seeming hopelessly optimistic.

But then some luck.

There’s a breakdown on the 1.6-mile long Dottinger Hohe straight and the double yellow flags are waved just as the Toyota arrives. We all file patiently through the 60km/h limit and close back up nicely. I’ve seen some pretty crazy things over these eight laps, from locked-up BMWs hitting the wall, to a Porsche Cayman being punted by a VW Scirocco. But presented with the GT86 slowing down, and imagining the driver seeing that pesky Mazda back in his mirrors? Well, that makes me all warm inside.

It's almost more tense out of the car than in
It's almost more tense out of the car than in
Over the next laps I do my best, barely aware of my hands or feet actually moving. Minimum effort, maximum speed. Using every trick in the book to stay within touching distance of the Toyota. I have a small heart attack when oil smoke streams momentarily into the cockpit. I call it in on the radio and watch the gauges like a hawk.

When the Toyota ahead finally pits I’m ecstatic. Knowing he’d have to pit earlier now’s my chance to really push but it’s a messy lap, with 60km/h speed limits and accidents to avoid. And lingering doubts about the steering – on the video you’ll see more power steering fluid going in, this being the source of the smoke.

My boss Ralph Beck takes over and emerges in front of the Toyota. Over the middle stint of the race changes places again with the GT86 several times. But with that extra economy and smart driving we enter the final stint still ahead of both the Toyotas, the official TMG car having caught up.

Fredy battles on through the final stint
Fredy battles on through the final stint
The final pitstop is neat, and again we don’t need to change tyres. Ralph mentions heavy steering and a few more drops of Motul’s finest go into the reservoir.

Fredy Lienhard is the final driver and, as the most experienced of the three-man team, the only worry is whether the little Mazda will make it, knowing the Toyotas would need to pit again and we already have a minute in hand.

The lap times look good. But in the final few minutes Fredy confirms the power steering is now completely dead. In my mind’s eye I picture the belt wrapping around the power steering pump and also the alternator. Then the Mazda would have only battery power to complete the race.

Team chief Tom Lennackers and Fredy decide to turn off the radio. All accessories that could drain the battery are off.

Outgunned but triumphant; the team celebrate
Outgunned but triumphant; the team celebrate
The last lap, in radio silence, is tense. We line the pit wall like the ground crew looking for Memphis Belle. When Fredy arrives over the line nearly three minutes ahead of the nearest GT86, I scream like a total idiot.

And now, sitting here with my laptop on my knee, I can relive any moment of that day and the world is better. Plus we all have a trophy. And that’s awesome.

Special thanks to the hundreds of fans and supporters who helped me get into this race. It really wouldn’t have been possible without you!

Video here.

 

Author
Discussion

Alex@POD

Original Poster:

4,824 posts

149 months

Friday 25th October 2013
quotequote all
Great report, that sounds like the plot of a film!

RenesisEvo

3,065 posts

153 months

Friday 25th October 2013
quotequote all
Congratulations, that must have been very rewarding! A great read too, this only serves to increase my enthusiasm towards VLN. And just how great does that MX-5 look?

HustleRussell

15,223 posts

94 months

Friday 25th October 2013
quotequote all
Wow. A little bit Apollo 13!

Makes me wonder why I'm packing in racing, it's the unexpected challenges along the way which absolutely make it.. It's a relentless pursuit for success against all kinds of different adversity.

williredale

2,846 posts

86 months

Friday 25th October 2013
quotequote all
Cracking write up. Bet the radio silence was tense!

thepook

24 posts

98 months

Friday 25th October 2013
quotequote all
Fantastic effort, and a great read!
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Gavinio

21 posts

80 months

Friday 25th October 2013
quotequote all
You just got to love the plucky little Mazda!

Don1

12,907 posts

142 months

Friday 25th October 2013
quotequote all
Very cool - well done.

sixspeed

2,002 posts

206 months

Friday 25th October 2013
quotequote all
Felt a wave of excitement for you reading those last couple of paragraphs. Fantastic work Dale (and the rest of the team). Well done!

nsa

1,390 posts

162 months

Friday 25th October 2013
quotequote all
Great write up Dale and fantastic video. Well done guys.

Kolbenkopp

1,537 posts

85 months

Friday 25th October 2013
quotequote all
Some express hairdressing there wink. Seriously, looks great that MX5. Thank you for the brilliant read & video. And herzlichen Glückwunsch, sau geiles Ergebnis, respekt echt!

OlberJ

14,100 posts

167 months

Friday 25th October 2013
quotequote all
Bravo. Hope it leads to more of the same for you.

Debaser

3,335 posts

195 months

Friday 25th October 2013
quotequote all
Nice write up. I bet it was great fun!

Gorbyrev

1,019 posts

88 months

Friday 25th October 2013
quotequote all
beerclapbow

Howrare

147 posts

140 months

Saturday 26th October 2013
quotequote all
Wunderbar! Sehr gut rennen.

itch

177 posts

110 months

Saturday 26th October 2013
quotequote all
Congratulations! Great write up smile

WolvesWill

97 posts

83 months

Saturday 26th October 2013
quotequote all
Nice action video, the MX5 looks really good as a race car too!

TristPerrin

91 posts

112 months

Monday 28th October 2013
quotequote all
Not a huge fan of the Mk3, but that looks realy nice.

That BMW locking up at ~50 seconds looked pretty scary too! eek