Tuesday, April 24, 2007

the way of the Samurai...

“God it’s hot!”, I was saying to myself as I wound down the window to let in more air. My t-shirt was drenched in sweat. And I could feel sweat running down my legs down to my feet. My socks were almost soaked. The only thing preventing my face from being drowned with sweat was the cotton balaclava, which covered much of my face. It was getting uncomfortable. I looked at the digital clock on the dashboard and it says 2.30pm!

I was powering along the back straight of the Sepang F1 track. That must have been the 7th lap and I was feeling kind of thirsty. A quick look at the oil temperature and it was hovering around 110 degrees. The engine temperature was normal. Exhaust temperature was on a high side but there was nothing alarming about it. Everything else was okay except for the old OS Giken double plate clutch. Well, that clutch was working up that day, refusing to let me upshift from 3rd to 4th smoothly at high rev. I had to double clutch before I could do so and that in turn caused me about 1 second on every upshifting from 3rd to 4th! Bloody hell! I was cursing the whole day. But then again, it was high time that that clutch takes a one-way ticket to junksville. It’s been more than 2 years, more than 200 laps around the F1 track and more than 10 quarter mile launches at 7000rpm or above!

I turned towards my brother and said, “hey, I wanna pit after this. This next lap will be our cooling down lap okay”. He just nodded. Turn 14, the hairpin which connects the back with the front straight, was looming ahead. I went to the left, gave the huge 6 pot AP Racing callipers a tight squeeze on the 14 inch rotors, kick the heavy clutch to the floor and downshifted to 3rd. As I de-clutched, the engine roared as the tacho needle jumped to about 5000rpm. I did not bother downshifting to 2nd as I did not plan to take the 0.9km front straight in full speed. After all, it was going to be my cooling down lap. I turned the steering towards the apex of the left turn and the nose just slid to the left. No complaint. No tyre screeching. Completely indifferent. Absolutely nonchalant. The car then drifted to the right edge of the track as we exited the tight left hander. I straightened the nose and after a while upshifted to 4th. The car walked lazily along the front straight.

That was to be a cooling down lap during which I would drive the car as slow as I could possibly do without being hauled up by the marshals for obstructing other cars. The on rushing air would then cool down the engine oil, coolant, brake rotors and almost everything else. It was time to cool us as well. I reached for the air-cond button and gave it a push. Hmm…this is going to be boring…

As I passed the start-finish line, I upshifted to 5th and feather the accelerator. The GTR lazily swaggered at about 130kph along the front straight while gobbling the onrushing air into its huge air filter and under its carbon bonnet. There were some guys standing by the pit wall under the hot sun waiting to see some cars eating up the tarmac along the straight or to take pictures. There were even some long suffering girl friends or wives of these guys standing alongside them wondering what all the fuss about cars going round and round a circuit was about!

I was winding up the window when I heard a thunderous roar from the pit lane. Instinctively, I turned to the right and there she was. A huge-assed Lamborghini Murcielago, the ultimate Lambo of the moment, all 1650kgm of curvaceous steel and carbon fibre. 6.2 litres, mid-mounted V12, 48 valves, quad-cam, 4wd, 620 bhp with a nauseating 650Nm of torque available at just about 5400rpm. This is about brute. This is about raw power. This is about untold wealth. This is about grabing attention. This is about the best the Italian could come up with. Well, almost Italian, actually, as Lamborghini has now been owned by Volkswagen, away from the clutches of some Malaysians and Indonesians, who, during their reign as owners did next to nothing to improve the image of Lamborghini as a premier super car manufacturer. That was a sad episode in the long history of Lamborghini, especially when one considers that arguably, the Lamborghini Countach was the car for which the words “super cars” were invented.

I could see “the bull” sauntered out of its pit and within a few seconds, it gave out a symphony of irrepressible mechanical screams mixed with minor but rapid explosions of burnt fuel and it whizzed past my car from the pit lane. My jaw dropped at the stupidity of it all. I mean, what was the driver trying to prove? That he was a really fast driver in the pit lane? Or was he just trying to show off? Why would an owner/driver of a Lambo, a Murcielago at that, speed along the pit lane, especially when there were people at the pit wall? Good God! Talk about monkeys with flowers!

You are not pitting until you overtake that Lambo!” screamed my brother. Oh shyte, there I was, hot and bothered, not to mention thirsty, in a car which had done 7 laps under the searing heat of Sepang, with a clutch that was more than hinting signs of retiring age, doing a lap in which I was supposed to cool down the car and this guy beside me wanted me to overtake a Murcielago, which was then a full 150 meters away in front of me! What if my clutch completely failed? What if my GTR overheated and ground to a halt? What if my brake fluid boiled when I was doing 180kph as I approached turn 4? You think I am stupid? No, I am not stupid. I am just plain mad!

“Erm, okay…” I said to my brother. With that I switched off the air-cond and wound down the window a bit to let some air into the cock pit. I looked at the boost controller and I was already at full boost of 1.55 bar. There was no way my GTR could match the mighty bull in terms of brute power and torque. All I could rely upon was the GTR’s renown handling around the tight turns, as well as the long sweeping ones, and the strength of its famous RB26 DETT engine which is known to be almost indestructible. If I were to overtake this bull, I knew I had to be fast around the corners and I had to maintain high rev all the while, which meant I had to red line the car at 8500rpm at every gear change! Let’s just hope my clutch would not retire. Let’s juts pray my engine would not overheat! Amen…

I was thinking, there were 3 factors which may work in my favour. Firstly, the Murcielago cost a whopping 1.4 million smackeroons. Being so, the driver was no going to throw about that car as I would my GTR. Secondly, that car was new and I presumed it is a factory-spec car. In contrast, my GTR was loaded with racing parts, mostly from the renowned Japanese racing parts manufacturer, HKS. The engine has been built to sustain at least 9000 rpm, massaged and tuned by non other than Nagata San, of Top Secret. Nagata San, when he was not tuning cars, could be caught on videos doing 200 mph (read carefully, 200 MILES per hour!) in a GTR in a tunnel in France! Absolute madcap! Thirdly, and this was going to be the clincher, my humongous 275/35/18 soft compound Bridgestones tyres had already done 7 laps and they were all heated up nicely and that means instant grip and better traction. The Lambo’s tyres were as cold as Anna Nicole Smith!

The bull whizzed out of the pit lane, the twin tail pipes blaring loud pop and crackles from the cold V12. The brake light went on momentarily as the driver braked before diving to the right at turn 1. I was at the 200 meter mark on the front straight, which meant I was about 200 meters away from turn 1. As I was downshifting to 2nd, the Lambo slithered its way around turn 1 before drifting out to the left to attack the 2nd turn left apex. I was hugging the inside line of turn 1 when the Lambo roared its way out of turn 2 down the lovely sweeping right curve of turn 3. Turn 3 is a beautiful 3rd gear flat out sweeping right turn leading into a short straight before the uphill 90 degree right hander that is turn 4. It is my favourite turn at Sepang. Taken smoothly and beautifully, the GTR would just go into a 4 wheel drift while exiting this turn. It is an experience like no other.

The Lambo, a glob of 1.65 tonne of Italian steel, glided along turn 3, powering its way into the short straight. It was a sight to behold. It was almost defying the law of physic. How could a huge and heavy object glide along a sweeping curve at high speed? As it reached the 200 meter mark, I saw the brake light. Gosh, that was one hell of an early braking, I thought. Hmmm…the driver was obviously having a confidence crisis or it was a borrowed car! If he was going to brake early at every turn at Sepang, he might lose at least a quarter of a second at every time he did that, and that would mean for every lap, he would lose a total of 3.5 seconds around the 14 turn circuit. 3.5 seconds! That is light years in terms of racing time.

He clipped the right apex without even touching the kerb and climbed the uphill left edge of the track before straightening the nose and powering off to the left turn 5 and the right turn 6. He was smooth. His straight-line speed was awesome, to say the least. But he braked early every time. And he powered on rather late too as the huge low grunt torque would otherwise unsettle the car causing the tyres to lose grip and consequently, traction. Driving fast on cold tyres is not easy.

He was constantly 2 turn ahead of me until turn 9. A 180 degree left hander going uphill, turn 9 is a hairpin cum chicane. It is the most ridiculous and difficult turn on the Sepang circuit. Nobody like that turn. Not me, for sure! He was powering along the straight after turn 8 and he was going real fast. As I came out of turn 8, he was already at the end of the straight at warped speed. He braked hard for turn 9 and I could see smoke coming out from the front tyres, which meant, he locked his brakes. He lost valuable seconds there. By turn 13, he was only about 5 car length away from my GTR.

Exiting turn 13, the Samurai smelled blood! I floored the loud pedal in 2nd and powered through the 3rd and 4th. Red lining the engine on 4th, I was doing about 200kph when the last turn of the circuit, turn 14, loomed ahead. The Lambo took to the extreme right, braked ever so early again and dived towards the left apex. I braked slightly late and lunged towards the left apex like a hungry lion. The GTR then drifted out of the apex to the right edge of the track and the front straight beckoned! The Lambo was a mere 2 car length away and I thought, that was it. I was going to nail his big fat ass on the front straight in 3rd and 4th gear in front of all the people at the pit wall. It was going to be my glory day. The day I ate a Murcielago for high tea!

The GTR roared out of turn 14 in 2nd. Upshifting to 3rd at about 8500rpm, the GTR lurched forward with such potent power that within nano second, my GT intercooler was sucking smoke from the Lambo’s twin tail pipes. The Lambo, sensing it was going to be eaten up, powered its mighty V12, churning out every last drop of its 620bhp, going forward at mind numbing speed while emitting a thunderous roar along the straight. People were running out of the pit towards the pit wall upon hearing the roars of the Lambo and the GTR. IN the 3rd gear, the GTR was quite literally kissing the bull’s ass. The speedo went from 120 to 150, 160, 170 and 180 before the bright green LCD start blinking. It was time to up shift. I kicked the heavy OS Giken twin plate to the floor and quick shifted from 3rd to 4th. The transmission went “KAACHUNK…KAACHUNK”…and well, I could not engage 4th! OH MY GOD! Of all the time, that was the time Mr Giken decided not to work properly. I felt like jumping out of the GTR! I had to de-clutch, tap the accelerator to maintain high rev and clutched again before trying to up shift another time. This time, it went through. I had lost at least 1.5 seconds and the Lambom was than pulling away to about 2-car length in front of mind. The speedo jumped from 180 to 220 before I upshifted to 5th and at about 235kph, I was already at the 200 meter mark.

I failed miserably to overtake the Murcielago on the front straight. The Murcielago took turn 1 and I decided to play the mental game. I attacked turn 1 aggresively and moved diagonally towards the left turn 2 with my GTR tailgating the Lambo. He clipped the left apex and drifted out towards the right. In his rush to shake me off his tail, he powered the Lambo on a tad early and the tail wiggled as the rear tyres lost grip. That unsettled the big bull out of turn 2 and he ended up in the middle of the track coming into turn 3. I hugged the inside right line and within a fraction of a second we were side by side leading towards turn 3. This is the time, I thought. This must be it.

I was in 3rd. And I was at turn 3. And the Lambo was going to have a bad day! I flat out the loud pedal along the sweeping curve of turn 3 with the Lambo beside me on the outside line. Coming out of turn 3 along the short straight towards turn 4, we were doing about 140kph…140…150….180…and we were at the 200 meter mark. The Lambo, as usual, braked. I waited till I approached the 150 meter mark before braking. The Samurai leapt from the ground, somersaulted while unsheathing his sword and with one swift, graceful and yet potent move, pulled it across his opponent’s neck before landing on his feet. The opponent fell on his knees, blood spurting out off his almost severed neck, struggling to breathe, almost conscious that this will be his last moment! The GTR dived towards the right apex, drifted out to the left and by this time the Lambo was snarling behind my 6 inch tail pipe, inhaling the 1 meter flame coming out of it as I upshifted to 3rd. The Lambo stuck behind the GTR for quite a while till we exited turn 9. I had taken the twin right hander of turn 7 and 8 in 3rd gear without even braking! By turn 13 it was about 5-car length behind. I powered along the back straight with the Lambo pushing itself to the limit. Turn 14th was taken with a whole load of drama with the tyres screaming away trying to grip the tarmac. I was thinking that I must maintain enough speed around the corners because the Lambo would try to spank my ass along the front straight with its enormous grunt. The driver must have also sensed that something was not right with my transmission as I failed to overtake him earlier along the straight. Upon exiting turn 14, I floored the pedal and upshifted to 3rd a little later. I was looking in the rear view mirror.

I was almost at the start-finish line when I finally saw the Lambo out of turn 14. It jumped straight into the pit lane! COWARD! I shouted. My brother was laughing! “Okay…this is our cooling lap” I said. The Lambo had surrendered! I slowed down, wound up the window and switched on the air cond. The GTR swaggered along turn 1 and then turn 2.

We were lazily minding our way along turn 3. Quite instinctively I looked at the rear view mirrow and a gleaming black Diablo was powering its way out of turn 2! Oh my God….

1 comment:

Fahri said...

Art, I never found stories of car racing so enthralling until I read your exciting accounts. I think you should pair up with Jeremy Clark and come up with some thriller mystery sci-fi car/space-ship chase kinda story (and make sure you have more stories about those pit lane girls. I know it's gonna be good dammit!