APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 10 November, 2000


The Eve of the Race

Tom McGrenery

The new kid - Robben, something like that - became the centre of attention as he stepped through the back door. Both hands held bags stuffed with food cartons. He shuffled over to one of the metal workbenches and put the bag down. One of the cartons fell out of the top of the bag and opened, revealing its contents.

"Hey!" said Antonio, a team mechanic, "Mystery Meat - that one's mine."

He swiped the carton and retreated from the huddle to his desk. Rows of figures were hidden beneath his Weird But Tasty meal - for a moment, gratifyingly out of sight and out of mind. Not for long, though, as the number two pilot, Allen da Silva, sauntered over, cup of cawfee in one hand, with the top of his yellow overalls hanging from his waist. He was wearing a T-shirt with the logo of an oil company on it. Allen was a dedicated pilot, still testing at - Antonio glanced at his watch - 21:00. Derrick Lammers had gone home hours ago, so that he could "be rested for tomorrow".

"I heard Okavango wants host a race next season," said the pilot.

"Interesting," replied Antonio, "Could be fun."

"I'm still dropping half a second on the back straight," Allen murmured quietly as he put his cawfee to his mouth.

"It's those Northco actuators, they're not responding to the change between the chicane section and the straight fast enough. You come out of Wormwood and you're left high-stepping by about five degrees. Marathon's such a bastard of a circuit. And I'm definitely making a phone call to Rapid City about those actuators."

"It felt like something like that," replied Allen, "Maybe we should try straightening the legs out more. I think the time lost through the corner's not going to be as much as on the straight at the moment."

Antonio nodded. There was no more time for testing today - he would have to take a chance and make the alterations in time for tomorrow's qualifying.

"Tomorrow?" he suggested.


Shouts and cheers came ringing down the pit lane from the Lehto garage. It was someone's birthday, evidently. Lehto had money, that's why their Gears were such quality. I bet if Lehto call Northco, they'd get something sorted out, thought Antonio.

He looked across the garage at the stationary Gears in the Merlin team's blue and yellow livery, with their stubbornly ungainly legs, surrounded by mechanics. Not that Lammers had even noticed the problem. A fast pilot, maybe, but Derrick couldn't test to save his life. He wouldn't last long in the team. Or Gear racing, probably.

Antonio glanced down at the food on his desk. His Mystery Meat had gone cold.

Qualifying began at 10:00 the next day. Antonio and the rest of the team had been at work for four hours already. Allen da Silva's Gear was sixth out on the track. The air was cool as da Silva began his out lap, and the grip on the packed earth track was good. Allen toured the track once, then began his timed "flying" lap.

At the end of the grandstand straight, the track narrowed and went into a sharp left-right Z-bend. Here, either side of the track, the earth had been cut away, leaving the road surface a good metre or so above the surrounding sand, to discourage short cuts.

The track was clear. Da Silva took the inside line through the chicane, expertly transferring his Gear's weight from one foot to the other. Then it was a full-out sprint for several seconds through the sweeping Lake Curve. The time for the first sector came through as he crossed the checkpoint: 36.251 seconds. Pretty respectable for a team with non-factory engines. So far, the fastest time through Sector 1, but that didn't really mean anything at this stage.

"Fastest through Sector 1," said Yves Radetsky, the team boss.

Allen's voice came back over the radio. "Doesn't mean anything yet."

Antonio permitted himself a brief smile, then returned his attention to the schematics. Two hard ninety-degree right turns followed the Lake Curve. The stress on the left leg seemed to be within tolerance. But the stiffer set-up had definitely been slower through the first chicane.

Meanwhile, the other Merlin Gear was being prepared for its first run. Derrick Lammers was in the open cockpit, checking controls and macros. The Gear raised its left leg suddenly, fetching one of the mechanics a whack on the shins. He dropped to the floor clutching at his legs and his MainzBurger-sponsored hat rolled under a spare arm assembly.

Allen da Silva was approaching the Wormwood corners - a tight but fast left-right-left combination. Here, the corners were flanked with solid crash barriers, funnelling Gears through the curves and on to the back Rearden Straight. The Merlin Gear slowed down late for the first corner, da Silva extending the right leg forward a little to take the impact of the turn. He had to lean in to the corner more than usual to keep the speed up through the apex of the turn. It was a little risky but it worked - as da Silva left the first corner he was bang on the racing line for the second. The third corner was more difficult. Wormwood Copse, as it was known, was significantly tighter than the previoustwo. Compensating enough for the chassis adjustment would probably send the Merlin sliding into the outside barrier. Allen hooked the Merlin's left elbow over the crash barrier, and leaned in. The Gear's feet slid outwards as they scrabbled for grip. The walker swept round in a tight arc. He used the Gear's momentum to right it as he was hurled towards the outside edge of the Rearden Straight.

Back in the pits Antonio muttered words of encouragement into the mike. As he did so, Derrick Lammers' Gear left the garage. As he pulled out down the pit lane, two scarlet Gears emerged ahead of him.

"It's Katayama and Boutsen," said Lammers.

"Damn," said Radetsky, "Those Guerbai jokers are going to wreck our lap times again."

Guerbai Racing were a team even lower on the ladder than Merlin. Pilots who lapped the distinctive red machines often complained that they were sure Guerbai were fielding more than two Gears. Still, they kept going and generally finished the race with both Gears, which was more than could be said for the Merlin team over the last few meetings. And with the Guerbais ahead of Lammers, he wasn't likely to get a great time on the first of his three qualifying stints, unless by some miracle he passed them both on the out lap.

Da Silva had come down to the final hairpin, which led out to the start-finish straight. Slowing down early, the Merlin slid slightly in to the corner, then reversed direction to leave it. Da Silva sprinted across the line. One minute and thirty-seven point three seconds. Provisional fourth. That would drop down the table as more results came in.

Lammers made it past one Guerbai on the out lap but had to overtake the other during his timed lap, managing it by steaming past on the outside through Lake Curve. He came in from his first run at 1"38.054. He was not pleased. A monitor was brought to the cockpit and, while the team worked on minor repair jobs on the Gear, Lammers studied the lap times of the rest of the field. He frowned slightly at the fact that Allen da Silva currently rested two places above himself.

The day wore on. Allen da Silva's second run improved his time by about two thirds of a second.

Derrick Lammers was still high-stepping out of the chicanes, but as number one pilot he had a better-tuned engine than his team-mate. The loss in time was negligible for him.

Da Silva set off on his third out lap as Grouillard of the Lehto team took the pole position, two seconds clear of the fastest Merlin. Allen kept clear of traffic, slightly improving his time through the first two sectors. At Wormwood, he encountered trouble again. As he belted into the first left-hander, a silver and blue Gear was visible ahead of him at the next corner.

"Who's ahead of me?" he demanded

"Grouillard," replied Antonio, "He's on his in lap."

The Lehto would pull over, for sure. Stefano Grouillard was known for his sportsmanship. Antonio kept watching the monitors. He had to move out of the way.

Da Silva's Merlin rushed through the right-hander. The inside hand brushed against the track where it banked slightly at the edge, insurance against leaning too far in. The upper torso twisted left; the Gear's centre of balance moved, and the legs practically jumped to move into position for the new direction.

"He's on the barrier," said Allen, urgently.

The Lehto hadn't moved. There it was, jogging on the racing line.

Sweet Prophet, Grouillard, thought Antonio, just get the hell out of the way.

"Go round! Go round!" shouted Yves Radetsky

Allen did, lurching to the right to pass the metallic Gear on the outside. When he exited the corner, he was wildly off line, in the looser soil and had to scramble back on line before he lost even more time. Around the Merlin garage, headsets were torn off and hurled to the floor in disgust. Antonio continued to watch the monitors.

Derrick Lammers was preparing for his third and final run. He was currently lying eighth and determined to change that. He waved off-handedly at Antonio.

"Uh, you - yes, you," he said, "I'm losing a lot of grip on the hairpin."

"Slow down earlier," suggested Antonio.

"Actually, this is not a pilot error, it is a mechanical problem," the pilot intoned, didactically, "I think larger grips are needed on the feet of my Gear."

"If we increase the size of the feet, you'll be slower on the straights," replied Antonio, refusing to be baited, "Can't have it both ways. Different cadence."

"So run the engine a bit hotter."

"A bit hotter? What you want doing won't last a race."

"Stuff the race, I'm talking about qualifying."

"I don't think it will work."

"Well, I do. And I'm piloting the thing."

Antonio acquiesced. "Okay, okay. I'll fit the larger soles."

He headed off towards the parts storage trailer. Lammers was such an idiot. But his next lap time, even Antonio had to admit, was great. Derrick Lammers took 60.754 seconds through the first two sectors. The man was on a blinder.

In the garage, all eyes were fixed on the images coming back from the other side of the track.

"If he keeps this up, he'll qualify fifth," announced the chief engineer.

Fifth. That would be Merlin's best grid position of the season. A collective breath was held. There was one corner to go - the hairpin. Lammers' Gear thundered towards it and began to slow down, angling to the right, stopping its running motion and going into a slide.

The angle was wrong. The pilot had slowed too late.

"He's overcooked it," someone said quietly.

The crew watched as the Merlin's weight shifted too far forwards. Instead of turning and heading for the grandstand straight and the finish line, it continued to slide. Achingly slowly, the Gear fell on to its hands, and Derrick Lammers' qualifying hopes slid into the gravel trap along with him.

"Damn it," said Radetsky, turning around, "He could have slowed down if we hadn't had to run the engine that high. Who fitted those stupid soles?"

Antonio suddenly felt the urge to go and break something.

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APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 10 November, 2000