Thursday, August 24, 2006

Part Two

Friday afternoon at Le Mans Frank returned from the timing tower, qualifying time sheets in hand. His first stop was with Patrick and Hans, but the meeting wasn’t necessary. We had been closely watching the progress of qualifying on the timing and scoring monitor provided inside the garage. Other channels displayed fixed camera scenes from around the circuit, but we had been glued to qualifying for quite some time. The news, at the moment, wasn’t good.

At dinner that night the mood was both somber and jubilant. Never ones to be brought down by the threat of going home early, Hans and Jeff were all smiles and full of stories. With a little nod, Jeff gets my attention and begins telling his tale.

“So, like two or three years ago we’re trying to qualify for the Oschersleben 24 Hour, and it’s bad, real bad. We’re not fast enough to get on the grid by something like 6 seconds.”
Hans is nodding in agreement, “Man, we were so slow.”

Jeff continues without missing a beat, “Hans is on the bike and comes into the pits. He gets off and looks at the timing screen. ‘Who is the fastest?’ he asks and we point at the number one bike, the SERT bike.”

Hans adds, “I ask them to put on a new rear tire. I say ‘I’ll give it one more shot’.”
Jeff is on a roll now, really getting into the story, “So we put a new tire on the bike and he looks over his shoulder. The SERT bike is in the pit getting a new tire. He takes a deep breath, and when the SERT bike rolls by he goes out right on his tail.”

Hans is just smiling now, adding a little chuckle and I know this is going to be good.

“So he goes out of the pits behind the SERT bike and follows him for the next two laps. I mean, he comes by the pits in his shadow, there’s this much between them.”
Jeff holds up his fingers indicating only the smallest of margins, and continues emphatically, “We’re all back in the pits watching on the timing screen when he comes around on his first hot lap and all of the sudden we’re on the grid in sixth or something ridiculous like that.”

“I just decided that something had to be done so I went out right on his tail and said to myself, ‘If he can do it, I can do it’, and never let him get more than a few inches away from me.” Hans is really getting into it as well, “Every corner I went into I am like, ‘Oh shit, I am going to crash! I am going to crash!’ but somehow I keep it upright and cross the line. I think most of the time my eyes were closed!”

Jeff jumps back in, “He comes back into the pits and we’re all so shocked and cheering but before we can pat him on the back he holds up his hands to stop us. He sits on the bike for a few seconds catching his breath and then gets off without saying a word. He walks into the garage, takes off his helmet and..."

Hans finishes in the perfect tone, "‘do not ever ask me to do that again.’”

With qualifying over and our absence from the grid, Hans’ tone is missing the tell-tale joviality that marks most of our exchanges, “fifty-two teams qualify for the Le Mans, and we are not among them. Perhaps we enter as an alternate, but right now we are not racing”, Hans tells us.

The news is devastating, and we try to remember that there is a jury at the track capable of hand picking four more teams for entry into the race. Even given this potential, we are not fast enough to start the race. Didier, on the other hand, is fast enough to qualify and had put the bike at 27th on the grid. As our backup rider, however, the inclusion of his time would mean that he rides the full race, something Hans does not think he is capable of doing.

“He’s just too young, not enough experience on the big bike for the long races. His strength will not be enough and he will get tired too quickly. No, he cannot race.”

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