Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Greatest Race That Never Was: London 2012

Putting something a bit different on and posting up a short story! I wrote this in the wintertime but forgot to post it up at the time...which explains the start of it - at Christmas! Thought it might be interesting to put this up now that the Games are in full swing...

The floor was strewn with bits of pinecones, tinsel and all manner of other detritus, the tree listed to one side, the lights flickered – was that down to my haphazard handiwork,  or was the electricity failing thanks to the howling wind and snow outside? Well, it was most likely my poor workmanship, but come on, I only got to practice this once a year, in pursuance of the whole ‘Christmas’ circus. I found ‘Chrimbo’ a mite contrived, and more importantly, it represented a massive obstacle to my constant quest to watch as much live motorsport as possible, in person or on TV. Britain’s race tracks were long under snow, and the gushing torrent of live motorsport on telly had reduced to a trickle. Was that Andros Trophy in the planner a rerun of last year’s race? Oh, look, V8 Supercars at the weekend!.....ah, darnit, the final race was two weeks ago....how long till the Dakar


I sat down on the armchair, truly exhausted after a few hours of the ‘fun’ of decorations. I poured myself a whisky, and lay back. Why couldn’t Bernie have extended the season even further? A Grand Prix would have been just lovely to sit down to now. Instead what was flashing up on my screen was a ‘celebration of the Olympics’. There were thousands of people gathered. ‘Less than 100 days to go’ boomed the presenter, with it written in huge neon lights on Trafalgar Square just in case you hadn’t heard. Oh crumbs, that will be another thing that disrupts motorsport, wedged right in the middle of the season. No doubt we will have to pretend to enjoy it, while we miss loads of great track action! Just like Christmas, and just as contrived. Don’t give me all this spiel about plucky amateur values and grass roots sport, given the whole thing was just a bizarre arms race between Governments, showering money on teams for medals and prestige? And surely there were some professional sports there anyway, cricket golf...but only the lucky few? Who decided that?  So we were facing an Olympics without motor sport, but also rugby, cricket, snooker, darts, in a British festival of sport! Oh for goodness sake! It made me angry, although given the long day decorating, that made me feel even more tired. I pulled my cushion up, shimmied under my nice thick rug, and my eyes were weightlifting heavy within seconds. All went black......

I suddenly regained vision again, and struggled to focus. Strangely, there were no decorations in sight, it was warm, and very sunny outside, and I was wearing my beach shorts. I was massively confused....mind you, the telly was still blaring away on full volume, just as I had left it. Okay then, fine. Mind, the pictures had changed – was that the Olympic Stadium with thousands of people in it? Test event? What was going on?
‘The OLYMPICS, the nation unites around OUR festival of sport’ shouted the announcer. Oh purrlease.....so give it to me then, our good old festival of sport, where you’re probably about to cut to the obscureville arena for some sport you never knew existed.....

‘Hi I’m Jake Humphrey, here at Brands Hatch, for the Olympics motorsport events. First let’s talk about the new event with Lewis Hamilton, Dario Franchitti, and Sebastien Loeb, part of the greatest driver line up ever assembled!

What the fu............

‘But first I’ve got Bernie Ecclestone, the instigator of all this. Bernie it was a bit of a shock when you and the IOC announced this in January?’

‘Well yes Jake, but as I said at the time, we all mellow a bit....eventually.....and I just thought elite level motor sport had become too associated with money, with Formula 1 far too dominant. I just wanted a fun event, that showed off the Corinthian spirit of the athletes from the diverse parts of our great sport.’


So I planned this event myself and I have paid for all the cars, the circuit, and the marshals. So when I went to the IOC, they were so tempted by the prospect of boosting viewing figures by enticing some F1 fans to actually watch the damn thing....and, er, of course, the great contribution to the sporting spirit of the Olympics this would be. So we will have three separate one make races, in V8 Superstars, around the rallycross course in Ford Fiesta WRC’s and finally in Superleague Formula cars. And may I just say isn’t this track marvellous, far better than some of the Tilke tracks I’ve, perhaps, mistakenly flooded the calendar with....’

This was ridiculous now. It had to be a dream. I pinched myself. I didn’t wake up. There was a pencil lying on the sofa, and I pricked myself on the arm – ouch! Still didn’t wake up Well, it must be a  pretty realistic dream.....

‘Thanks Bernie, well there was so much debate about what 40 drivers would be selected, including the now famous article on the Motor Sport website that attracted 850,000 comments, entering the Guinness Book of Records. In the end the FIA and IOC settled on last years champions in Formula One, Indycar, NASCAR, GP2, WTCC, BTCC, DTM, V8 Supercars, Formula Renault World Series, WRC  and IRC, plus 29 wildcards selected by a committee. Sadly it was just too last minute to get racing bikes involved, although they will compete in 2014 for a separate medal, and Valentino Rossi is one of the wildcards thanks to his previous car racing experience. Here are the drivers displayed on your screen.’

D. Earnhardt Jr
R. Wickens
A. Mikkelsen
J.E. Vergene
Points system: 40 for first, down to one for last.

Wow, what a field. What a field! All racing together, at Brands Hatch! I could rightly live with the Olympics now thank you very much! Although I was still slightly bemused by Bernie Ecclestone’s attitude. Less so the drivers.....

‘Lewis, are you not pining for your F1 car after the two days testing in these three cars?’  ‘No way man, this is frickin great! That V8 touring car is awesome, you can get the rear end to slide so good, and the superleague car with a V12! I remember the V12’s from Senna’s day....the SOUND! What a SOUND!!’

‘And Sebastien, you’re a wild card, how do you think you can do in the racing cars, is it too steep a challenge as a rally man?’ ‘Ah no....I don’t think so. I always have....pride...in being an all rounder, I’ve done track racing successfully before, and I really think I have the all round ability to beat these guys. I will certainly beat Ogier easily!!’

‘And Dario, you’ve put so much effort into your preparation for this, what does Olympic Gold mean to you?’ ‘Ah, so much, so much. I was delighted that the FIA resurrected the Jim Clark Trophy to be presented along with the Gold medal. I’m a big student of the history of the sport, and even now I can’t believe how Jim Clark could jump from Formula One, to Touring Cars, rally cars, anything.....To have the opportunity to do the same, even for one meeting...is just such a privilege. So I really want to win! Some people have said that carving out a replica of the rallycross track at my ranch, and buying a Ford Fiesta WRC to practice was a bit much, but we racing drivers always want the unfair advantage!’
Wow....I couldn’t believe some of all this. 40 of the world’s best drivers in V12 single seaters, rally cars, high powered touring cars...bring it on!

‘Now we will show you highlights of the first two races before we go live to the third race’.

The V8 supercars appeared on the grid for the first race, with the star studded line up. The fireworks were about to go off, and my goodness they went off with a bang. But first, astonishingly, confounding the predictions of each and every one of the pundits, the cars made it through Paddock Hill bend without contact. But that was just a lull in the storm, as it really degenerated at Druids, with Tony Stewart taking a massive yahoo up the inside of Jamie Whincup, the two cars slewing all over the place on the exit of the corner, before Matt Neal gave them a little tap, pushing them offline, with the concertina effect causing a lot of banging around through the field. The onboard camera caught Stewart gesticulating and shouting furiously.....As the cars screamed down the hill and the end of lap one, the order was: Lowndes, Edwards, Prialux, J.Gordon, R.Gordon, Plato, Hamilton, Whincup, Stewart, Vettel, Johnson and Franchitti. As the race went on the pace was furious, with the non touring car drivers adapting very well to the bashing and boring.  In just a few of the flashpoint areas the highlights editor had picked out, Michael Schumacher put Montoya on the grass on the run down the hill to Hawthorn, before Juan nerfed him into the gravel at Dingle Dell. ‘I’ll show you ONE MOVE!’ he thundered on the radio. There was a right shemozzle at Paddock Hill on the next lap as Robby Gordon and Jason Plato banged fenders on the way in, and as they did so, Hamilton blasted past on the outside, powersliding the car on the grass in a wonderful manoeuvre, to the frenzied noise and applause of the packed crowd on the banking. Astonishing! But then it was quickly all shattered, with Robby Gordon locking up hugely in the run into Graham Hill bend, knocking into the rear of Hamilton’s car and knocking the rear wing off. But this did not deter Lewis and he kept charging round, powersliding everywhere and entertaining the crowd. But it began to wilt his tyres, and he was overtaken by first Vettel and then Johnson. They had bided their time, and saved their tyres, and gradually worked their way up the field. 10 laps from the end Johnson slipstreamed past Vettel, after following him the whole race, and relentlessly then picked off everyone else, with a series of incisive manoeuvres, finally taking Lowdnes round the outside of Surtees on the last lap. So the final order was: Johnson, Lowndes, Edwards, Prialux, Borudais, Vettel, J.Gordon, Hamilton, Franchitti, Loeb, Stewart. 

‘And if you thought that was chaos, here are the highlights of the second race.’

The cars appeared in screen for the rallycross event. Loeb and Ogier were on the front row. The commentator  was excitedly burbling about this being a grudge match between Loeb and Ogier, after the recent war of words between the two in world rally. And true to the form, the two indulged in an orgy of wheel banging throughout the race, as they left the rest of the field in the mists. Behind there was utter chaos, with the F1 drivers in particular using the license to pull out some spectacular power slides. Hamilton showed a great aptitude for this, joking over the team radio that it was a joy to do two races with no downforce at the back, and that he wished he could do it more often! Franchitti was well up after his extra testing and had a ding dong with the exciting Theirry Neuville, that ended up in their bumpers littering the track. After 50 minutes of absolute chaos, it came down to the last lap, with Loeb slingshoting Ogier at the last corner to won, much to his joy. The final order was: Loeb, Ogier, Neuville, Hirvonen, Franchitti, Kopecky, Hirvonen, Stewart, Hamilton, and Vettel.

‘And now we go to our final race, in the V12 superleague formula cars’. The standings going into the race were:
Loeb: 71
Franchitti: 68
Vettel: 66
Hamilton: 65

Vettel had taken pole, sharing the front row with Hamilton, with Franchitti in 5th, and Loeb in 12th. All still had shots at the Gold Medal. It promised to be quite a race, and so it was. Vettel roared off from the start, while Hamilton got an awful one, and was passed by Alonso, Webber , Button and Dixon. Vettel immediately built up a big lead. But inexorably, cheered on by the capacity crowd, Hamilton started to move up the field. He went round the outside of Dixon into Surtees, slipstreamed Button down the hill into McLeans, and dived past Webber into Paddock Hill bend. After that he barged up the inside of Alonso into Graham Hill bend, and started to reel in Vettel. He looked good for the win. But this seemed to spur on Alonso, and he passed Hamilton in an astonishing manoeuvre that started with him going up the inside at Paddock, but thanks to Hamilton’s obduracy lasted till Alonso got the drop at Dingle Dell! It was all absolutely crucial, as although Alonso could not realistically win Gold, he could take it away from Hamilton and Vettel by winning – Hamilton needed to win the race, second for Vettel would not be enough if Franchitti was 5th, or Loeb 9th. And intriguingly Franchitti, cannily saving his tyres, was in 7th, but catching Schumacher and Dixon for that 5th place, while being pressured by Castroneves and Vergene. But catching them all was Loeb, a quite astonishing performance for a man who had been refused an F1 superlicence, but was finally fulfilling his dream of racing against the best of the best in single seaters. And he was in tantalising reach of the Gold medal....

The race got momumentally intense towards the last 5 laps, with the TV director furiously flashing up ‘As it stands’ tables every 5 seconds – and rightly so, because the position was constantly changing. At various points, Franchitti, Vettel, Hamilton or Loeb were all theoretically top of the table. The top 3 had got into a ding dong battle and were swapping the lead nearly every corner. Franchitti had briefly got into the hallowed 5th place, but Schumacher and Dixon were proving obdurate and sparked off another desperate bout of passing and repassing.  Loeb had joined a furious battle with Castroneves and Vergene for 8th. If Loeb was 9th he would win Gold providing Franchitti was not 5th. If he was 8th he would definitely win Gold. If either Vettel or Hamilton won they would win Gold providing Loeb or Franchitti were lower than 9th or 5th respectively. Get it? Well I didn’t, but with the help of Mr ‘As it Stands’, I was enjoying it immensely! It really was all up in the air.....

And who to win? They all had mighty claims to be deserving of the first Olympic Gold. Vettel was the World Champion, had been breathtakingly fast in everything and had really thumbed ‘the finger’ to anyone who thought he couldn’t do wheel to wheel racing – he had executed, what, a million clean and brilliant passes in one day! Hamilton had brilliantly got into the spirit of it, relentlessly attacking, creating nonstop excitement for the home crowd, even when he had no rear wing. Loeb had showed how much of great all rounder he was, possessing real single seater prowess, and as a bonus had vanquished his emerging rival Ogier. And Dario.....he had been great, and his respect for the history of the sport and adulation of Jim Clark, in some way, it make it so fitting if he was up there on the podium in front of 100,000, the Gold medal round his neck and lifting the Jim Clark trophy. There was just one thing for sure – they had all thrown themselves into the event, created a magnificent spectacle that would be the talk of the Olympics, and motorsport fans would be proud of them, whoever the winner....

The last lap started. Somehow the director had contrived a three way split screen to view the crucial battles that would decide the Gold. The front three battle was unbelievable, throwing all caution to the wind, going on the grass sliding, darting around,(maybe thinking they were still in the touring cars?!) but still showing respect for each other.....just about! It was more Villeneuve/Arnoux than dodgem cars, thankfully. As they went through Clearways and into Clark, Vettel appeared to have it, but Alonso had saved a little power boost and used it just before the braking area, and dived down the inside brakes locked, both cars lightly tapping and slewing a fraction sideways, both drivers struggling to put the traction down and beat the other to the line. While they were doing this, Hamilton had thrown his car into a crazy powerslide, two wheels slightly on the grass, still behind, but crucially carrying more momentum than the other two. HOW WAS THIS GOING TO END?! And the thing was, the lead battle possibly wasn’t even decisive. The other split screen showed Franchitti in 6th, but diving down the inside of Schumacher into Stirlings, with the door rapidly closing! Could he sneak through? And at the same time, Loeb had sneaked up to 8th. But there was Vergne going round the outside of Loeb into Dingle Dell! I could not believe this!!! Everything was happening at once, yet somehow in slow motion. It was madly exciting, who was going to win Gold out of all this pandemonium!! I stood up and punched the air –‘This is the Olympics! Gold!! COME ON!!!!!!!!!’


I was still shouting and punching the air like a madman, but suddenly....I couldn’t understand, I couldn’t focus on the TV. Was there a problem? Oh no, had the satellite signal lost it at the crucial moment? I NEED TO KNOW HOW THAT ENDED!!! NOW!  But hang on, now I refocused my vision, the TV was still displaying pictures. But they were of the lithe figure of Usain Bolt, ‘the fastest man on earth’. THEY HAVE CUT AWAY FROM BRANDS HATCH FOR THAT?!!!!!!! I smacked my hand against my trousers in utter disgust.....

Trousers? What had happened to my beach shorts? And why was it so cold? In summer? What?

I looked around. Oh no. Oh no. The Christmas tree was still up with the lights flashing.....

A dream!

Oh darn, now I would never know who won....mind you it was the best dream ever. And Usain Bolt the fastest man on earth, Olympics hype la de dah...you got to be kidding me! There are faster out there don’t you worry about that. He wouldn’t have got near 40th place in my dream!