Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lotus Racing

I’ve been on enough old airfields to know better, especially as I was warned, but, stood in the queue to sign on for the first race of the Lotus Cars Road Race Series, I was bloody freezing, dressed ready to race, shivering like a skinny four-year-old waiting to be dried after a paddle off the English coast. My fingers, poking from the cut off ends of my mitts, were numb, and three layers on my upper body ineffective against the freezing wind, which whipped across the Lotus test track, which sits by the factory in Norfolk. Flat, windy Norfolk.
It’s been a rough time at work recently, there’s lots of change going on and I don’t like change. To go with the gloom at work, there’s plenty of gloom elsewhere, especially on the weather front. The UK is famous for its rain and uninviting weather, but we seem to have got used to dry warm Springs over the last few years. Sadly this year, apart from a couple of warm sunny days in late March and the green haze of expectant buds on the trees, there really doesn’t seem to be any difference between current weather and that of November. Normally to escape gloom, I ride my bike but, having an aversion to riding a machine crusted with road grime or anything less than a pristine chain and gears, I often opt not go out on the road to get wet and cold, but resort to the turbo in the garage. This is OK from a fitness point of view, but hardly enriches the soul, indeed it can lower morale even further; hours spent staring at the blank metal of the firmly shut garage door or watching the puddle of sweat growing steadily on the blank, dusty concrete floor. To pile on more misery, all this riding was beginning to seem just a little pointless as, despite my best intentions, I hadn’t raced for over a month. Then, low and behold, I remembered the Lotus Cars Series.
Having completed the required on line entry two days before, I found myself stood between my car and the one parked next to it getting changed, stripped naked, furtively glancing around, hoping not to be spotted by Mums accompanying their teenage daughters to the track for the Go-Ride youth race, which ran prior to the E1234 Category race I was preparing for. The race was due to start at 7.30 but, so long was the queue to sign on, it was 7.32pm by the time I realized the shivering had disabled my mouth and I was unable to say my name to the women taking money and issuing numbers. Not the best preparation for a race, especially as the only warm up I had time for was a lap of the short circuit, about one kilometer, and some more shivering. The group assembled in the gloaming and received our commissaire’s briefing, none of which I listened to, before being told, “Go.” 
The heart-rate information gathered by my Garmin Edge is my only reminder that this was hard work. I remember the exhilaration of speed and cornering on the limit, being surrounded by people doing the same, whose abilities I knew nothing of, passing or slipping backwards either side of me. In the group, punctuating the whoosh of tyres and the rattle of free hubs, the odd shout lets others know a rider is coming through. All my training over the preceding three weeks had been alone, so it took a few laps to configure my brain to riding in a group and working out where to look. The track is wonderfully smooth and grippy, long straights are connected by a couple of tight hairpins, which slow and rearrange the riders each time. These curves rewarded those dumb, brave or talented enough to brake late, and follow their inside knee, optimistically pointed round the bend.
Once the Go-Race Cat 4 only competition had finished, we were given the whole track to play with, making the straights longer and the wind assisted, high speed efforts more thrilling but consequently more lung busting. Each time round, the group became more strung out as we flew along in excess of 30mph. Every pass someone would try to get away off the front, only to have a long line of rivals clinging on to his rear wheel. At last we’d compress together again, slowing for the final bend, bike leant over, head, knee and eyes pointing where I hoped I would end up, before out of the saddle again, into the wind, breathlessly stamping on the pedals, accelerating up to speed once more.
It was nearly dark when the bell for the final lap clanged at the track side, just the wrong time to realize the exertion of the previous circuit had been slightly too much as I was swamped by the rest of the field, finding myself nearer the back than the front. If I had any ambition to achieve a top ten, I was now very much in the wrong place.
As that final lap unfolded I managed to claim a few places back, slipping by people on the inside of corners where I could, using the track and carrying speed through the bends, rather than using my legs and lungs too much. We rounded the final bend for the last time and I realized I was nowhere near the front, so didn’t even bother with a sprint. I probably finished somewhere in the top 20, but importantly managed second place in the queue to hand my numbers back in, though instead of shivering, I was panting, babbling and smiling as I did so.
Now that was a good night out.

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