Nerves fray at the end of a racing season: tension builds, tempers flare, and people over-react through simple tiredness, whether it be Marco yelling because Stan put his camera case where Marco normally puts his laptop, or Will yelling because the Spanish security guard was being over officious after he opened a door they were late in opening, or Didier yelling because the parking attendants are trying to make him park miles away from the paddock, or me yelling because the guards are trying to make us walk around the world.
It’s natural that we’d all be tired by the end of the season, particularly with one round to go, but it happens and the yelling comes, and then it’s gone and we’re quietly ashamed of the outbursts, mostly because we don’t know where they even came from, because on any other day we’d have laughed and made a joke about it instead, laughed at how ineffective the Spanish are at organising anything rather than taking it as a personal attack and snapping.
But we’re not alone: outside in the paddock there was a throbbing black cloud of tension, and its epicentre was a man called Timo Glock.
On Friday he just looked lost, a small boy who had let go of his father’s hand in the shopping centre for one minute and now couldn’t find him anywhere. Friday was useless, a waste of a day because everything was going to happen on Saturday and Sunday, so with the cars being set up in the pits there was nothing for the rest of us to do other than mill about listlessly and work ourselves up into a anxiety state. And so we did.
By Saturday the nerves had hit, and Timo had moved from on listlessness to outright worry. It was as big a surprise as we could have had: Glock had spent the rest of the season being calm and collected, propping his team up when they needed it and helping them to re-find their nerve and face the rest of the paddock, but before the sessions on Saturday it was as though he’d put his head on inside out.
“Don’t worry about it,” Paul Jackson said, trying not to betray his own nerves`. “He’s still Timo: as soon as he’s got his helmet on he’ll be fine.” The team, and everyone else, left him alone in the corner, iPod on and headphones in, scanning for the right track to banish the nerves and get the weekend underway.
Outside in the paddock, on the other hand, Lucas di Grassi looked like he didn’t have a care in the world: smiling and joking with Xandi Negrao, you’d have been forgiven for thinking he was someone other than the man two points off the lead of the championship, someone not hoping to change his entire life over the course of one brief weekend.
Too much inactivity is harmful in a racing paddock, so it was a relief when free practice finally came around and we all had something to concentrate on for a while. The session was mostly quiet, being that qualifying was less than an hour away: Markus Niemela beached his car on the kerb on the outside of the final turn towards the end, briefly bringing out the red flags, but at the end of the session Nicolas Lapierre held the top spot, just ahead of teammate Kazuki Nakajima and the Minardi Piquet pairing of Negrao and Roldan Rodriguez.
Glock and di Grassi had brought their cars home sixth and tenth respectively, but it was clear they were keeping their powder dry for qualifying. In which, the Brazilian set the early pace until Andi Zuber stopped on the front straight, briefly bringing out the red flags once again, ahead of a squabble between the local drivers for the top spot.
Eventually the big guns were brought out, and the top time ticked over between Luca Filippi, Glock and Nakajima, but it was the Japanese driver who just pipped the pair to pole, with the German joining him on the front row and just one tenth covering all three drivers. Di Grassi had clearly lost the first battle, finishing back in seventh and unable to stay with his rival, despite Glock flatspotting his left front just after taking on new tyres.
But any thoughts that the result would raise a smile from Glock were soon banished as he lashed out at the brakes, telling anyone who would listen that he might have to change his brake pads during the race. Jackson, as ever, had the real answer: “We put the new style pads on his car, and he’s never driven with them before so he didn’t really know how to drive with them: he was trying to stop like he normally does, and obviously that’s not the best way to use them.
“But we’ve got one more set of the old brakes: we’ll put them on for the first race so he can be more comfortable, and hopefully that’ll do the job. If not, he can practice tomorrow on the new ones, again ahead of race two.”
Maybe he just needed to have something to eat: Will gets a bit frantic after he forgets to eat (pretty much every weekend), so why not a driver too? It seemed to do the job: Timo was smiling and back to his old self after sitting down for lunch.
It was around this time that Guy Hornsby turned up in the paddock, returning once again to DJ at the end of season party after being (literally) blown away at the opener in Bahrain, and this time he brought a couple of friends, John and Andi, with him. Unfortunately for us, it turned out that Andi is a rain god, and ominous black clouds were soon rolling in where previously we’d enjoyed perfect blue skies.
“I knew it,” Andi sighed. “Every time I come to Spain it rains.”
“How is that possible?” I blurted. “It was scorching half an hour ago.”
“The clouds follow him everywhere,” Guy sighed as the first drops started falling. “Wherever we go, the rain follows right behind him: we should start selling his services to drought affected countries.”
“Oh man, what next?” Timo laughed as he looked at the sky. “Someone up there is screwing with me for sure!”
“It’s his fault,” I grinned, pointing at the suitably despondent looking Andi. “You need to find someone in the team to kidnap him and drive him as far from the track as possible.”
“Okay, I’ll get someone now!” Andi, increasingly nervous as he waited for Timo to get out of earshot, finally whispered: “I think I better disappear now: I can’t tell if he’s serious or not…”
The support F3 race came and went in a deluge of mayhem but the rain lingered, still hanging in the air as we walked out to the grid. The threat of more rain hung ominously over the field, as the teams looked at the sky to see which way they should go on tyres: do they start conservatively on intermediates and hope for the best, or take a chance on slicks and possibly lose everything?
The iSport mechanics, unsurprisingly, put inters onto Glock’s car: after so much chaos this year it now seemed a way of life, and they calmly went about their jobs as the clock ticked down, while the Campos mechanics went the other way and put slicks onto both of their cars before walking back to the pitlane with fingers firmly crossed.
What followed were probably the most chaotic opening laps ever seen in GP2: Nakajima on slicks easily pulled away from Glock and Filippi on inters to lead the field into turn one, while Nicolas Lapierre was slow off the line and was immediately tagged by a fast charging di Grassi, putting the Frenchman out on the spot. The Campos pair were also fast away, running with Roldan Rodriguez until the Spaniard got a little lost at the back of the circuit, took a short cut down a service road, and popped out in the lead of the race.
He soon realised his error and waved five cars through, but it wasn't adjudged enough and he was soon in for drive through penalty, handing the lead back to Nakajima, who was trying to hold on from the Campos pair: unfortunately for the Japanese driver he soon came across Mikhail Aleshin, who was unaware that he was a lap down and pushed hard to stop Nakajima coming through until it was too late, with Petrov and Pantano blasting by on the straight next time around.
With the rain stopping and starting it was chaos on the pitwall as the teams tried to decide on the best strategy: slicks had worked out for the leading trio, but had also helped a number of drivers to go over the edge of adhesion and into the gravel. Di Grassi found this out to his detriment: his ART engineers called him in early for slicks, which put him towards the back of the grid, and the combination of long pitlane and short track meant he was now a lap down on title rival Glock; pushing too hard in tricky conditions to get back up his car ran wide and into the gravel, and his title challenge was all but over.
"The start was really incredible," Petrov laughed afterwards in the press conference, "because I talk with my engineer on the radio and I told him it would be very difficult to start, because my tyres were a little bit in the water and I was really afraid to do too much wheel-spin. But I was really lucky, it was incredible the start, and I passed a lot of cars. I did a few laps and had a very clear understanding of the track: I knew where I could push, and for me it was really not a problem in the first five laps. At the start it was a big problem, because I was on the radio speaking with my engineer saying maybe we change for wet tyres or not, but I take the decision to stay out all the time.
"And I was really happy, because its the first time I won a race! I was really happy because my team was happy: my team won this, and I give it to them."
"You know, he did a pretty good start to be honest," Pantano acknowledged. "For me, I did well but what he said before, it was wet and I probably had a bit too much wheel-spin compared to him. Anyway, I think we did the right choice about the tyres: we was very quick to deal with the situation, and we both did a very good job, apart from the last 15 laps I had quite a big problem with the rear. I had to take off a little throttle because it was too risky to stay there and push him to try to overtake, and I decide to take the place and let him win.
"He did a great job and I want to say congratulations to him, because he drove very well today."
"The start was great for me," Nakajima reflected, "and I had slick tyres so my start was much better than, like, Timo or Filippi who was behind me. Just after the start we had already small raining, and I was just controlling my pace and looking at the car behind. After it was really difficult to have rain on slick tyres and traffic. Because of traffic I lost my place and it was a shame, but I’m happy to be back on the podium again in the last event and I think the team did a good job.
"It’s a shame to miss the win, but we showed the pace in qualifying and it’s good to survive such a crazy race."
With much of the pressure now off, Glock could finally relax a little: seventh place meant his lead was out to four points with one race remaining, even though he wasn’t yet ready to admit that he had one hand on the title: "Ha! I don't say this: I was 18 points ahead, 11 points ahead, and it never worked out! So I will just take it easy tomorrow and try to bring it home, and that's it. I mean, everything is possible: the possibility is that we are in P2 on the starting grid and Luca is on P20 is a difference, but I don't care: we've had so many crazy races in GP2 and I think everything is possible until the chequered flag comes out!"
The roles of earlier in the day had now reversed: Glock was his usual ebullient self, while di Grassi, hurting deeply, was staying in the truck out of sight as he tried to come to terms with what had happened: he knew that he would need a miracle to reverse the flow of points, and miracles were in short supply in Valencia.
It was something Luca Filippi knew all too well, although he wasn’t actively seeking one. The Italian had seen his points advantage over countryman Giorgio Pantano evaporate after his fuel tank hold had snapped during the race, allowing the tank to slop around in his car and denying his engine fuel every time he went around a corner: he was losing six seconds a lap after a fine drive before the inevitable retirement came.
Despite the disappointment, and the almost certain loss of third in the championship, Filippi wasn’t willing to wish his rival any ill will: “For sure it will be hard now, almost impossible, but how can I hope for something to go wrong for Giorgio? That’s not the correct way, not sporting: I can only hope for the best for me, and I will try with everything I can: if I don’t get third I will be very sad, but I can only push hard and hope that everything is fair.”
His words came back to me early the next morning as we watched the monsoonal F1 race in Japan, everyone there cheering with delight as GP2 brought home the first 1-2 in the senior series in the shape of Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen. Fernando Alonso, disappointed after running off the track during the race, knew that his shot at the title was more than a little dented, but in contrast to Filippi he stated: “It is out of my hands: I need him to have a problem now, but I do believe in miracles.”
After the F1 race it was time for the new GP2 car to get its first public outing: Adrian Campos slipped into the seat as everyone else in the paddock walked over to the pitlane to watch. He ran a few laps, nowhere near the top pace as you would expect, but the new car looked and sounded phenomenal, like an F1 car on loan for the weekend. We all stood there, trying to keep warm as the sun peaked over the nearby hills for the first time that day, everyone smiling as we watched our new toy in action.
A 1-2 in F1, the new car turning laps, a quick espresso to warm you up, a smile and a joke with your racing family: what better way could there be to start the final day of the season?
The race finally rolled around, the last of a long season, and one last effort was needed before we could get across the line and finally relax. Javier Villa was on pole yet again, joined on the front row by Glock, but any thoughts of repeating his usual Sunday antics were soon abolished as the German streaked away: Villa stayed with him for as long as he could, but the German had too much for him as he claimed his championship with a dominant win ahead of Villa and a delighted Andy Soucek.
Behind them Filippi put in yet another finely time charge through the field, getting up to the points and sitting on the rear wing of Pantano in fifth place, but with his tyres past their best there was nothing he could do: the pair crossed the line nose to tail, finishing on the same number of points in the championship, but Pantano got the position by dint of a superior win record, two to one.
Di Grassi, meanwhile, looked strong as he also charged through the field until he came across Andi Zuber, who was clearly under instruction not to let the Brazilian through: he did his job to the letter, and the championship was over at last.
"After all the hard work over the year," a clearly emotional Glock reflected, "all the bad luck and bad races like in Spa, and the hard races like yesterday which was just a special race, today when I got here I just said I would try and win the race for the team. I had a little bit of wheel-spin but it was better than the rest, and I tried to save a little bit the tyres in the beginning, pushed a bit in the middle of the race, and at the end I tried to bring it over the distance.
"At the moment it's just a little bit difficult to believe it, because when you have so many ups and down, when at the end you can just win the championship, it's just a great feeling. It's strange at the moment: it's just the finish of the last race, but when you hear the engineers and my team boss over the radio, and all the mechanics, I'm just quite happy. We won the team championship as well, so that's just the perfect feeling. And for now, I just hope we can get something done for 2008."
"From the very first moment he sat in the car he was instantly on the pace, he felt at home, and he clicked with all the guys in the team," Paul Jackson noted after we dragged him reluctantly up to the front for once at a press conference. "It was a very strange situation where you feel like he’s an old friend after a couple of days, and I think a lot of people miss those personal relationships: they’re very important, and it makes the bond very strong and helps the work ethic, and everybody pulls 100%. It worked out extremely well, better than we could ever have hoped.
"And at the end of that year, having scored more points up until Monza than Lewis [Hamilton] did in those same races, from both sides we wanted to stick together this year and try and win the championship. It’s been pretty tough, but we’re there now and we can celebrate."
Finally we let Timo and Jacko go, and they went straight downstairs to celebrate at last with their team: everyone was decked out in blue iSport 2007 champions t-shirts, and Jacko was soon spraying the champagne all over anyone foolish enough to stand near him (“You can't spray that as well as your boys can” I noted, to which he laughed: “They’ve had a bit more practice than me, and it's been a fair while since I did it last!”). Eventually the team got down to the business of clearing up, eventually getting everything packed up, albeit being the last team to be ready to leave, as usual.
When the truck eventually pulled out there were a few mechanics from the other teams standing around waiting for a lift back into town, and they gave the truckie some polite applause as he crept down the paddock: randomly he pulled out a trumpet in the cabin and started blowing a charge before placing it carefully in front of him and heading for the exit.
And then it was time for the party, at last. We headed down to the City of Arts and Sciences, the futuristic collection of buildings by the port where Will had organised his biggest party to date, as well as hosting the event while the rest of us got stuck into the food and drink.
It was a fantastic night, as always, with the drivers, engineers and mechanics all blowing off steam as they put a long and grueling season behind them. The party carried across the way to another building for the after party where, despite the best efforts of the bouncers to destroy the mood, most of us lifted up even further.
“It’s downstairs,” Alfonso stated when I asked where the toilets were. “Be sure to wash your hands.” It was a refrain that everyone who saw me along the way repeated, as though training a toddler. I soon saw why as I walked in and saw a mechanic at the sink, the dark shirt and trousers he was wearing turning into a purple dress in the mirror: only the top half of the view in front of him was an actual mirror, while the bottom half was clear glass showing through to the women’s toilets.
When it was my turn to wash my hands, I looked into the mirror to see that I had transformed into Timo Glock, and I looked very, very happy about it.
I walked around to retrieve him as he stood there, laughing. “I need to find my team!”
“I don’t think you’ll find them in here! Come on, I’ll help you look.” The walk back to the venue, just one flight of stairs away, took about half an hour as every single person coming the other way stopped to shake his hand, to give him a hug, to have a word before moving on. Timo lapped it up, graciously smiling for everyone as they came over.
“You’re going to miss this when you go back up to the big paddock, aren’t you?”
“It will never be like this up there: you know what it’s like up there, you remember. GP2 is fantastic: I wish I could stay here every year and race, but it doesn’t work like that. It’s so much fun here: it’s so tough, but the racing is the best, and everyone is just fantastic.”
“Don’t turn into one of them when you get up there: remember you’re one of us, not one of them.”
“I’ll never forget this: I’ll never forget anything about here. This has been the best year of my life.”
“I know what you mean. Now, we better find your team: where did you leave them?”
“I can’t remember…”
We found them in the end, he insisted on buying me a drink, we all stood around and laughed like maniacs, the edge of our worlds shrinking down to just one large room for a while: for one night, there was nowhere else we would be: Guy was creating the soundtrack, and we all filled it with dancing, laughter, magic. The end of year parties are always fantastic, always perfect: Will is too much of a perfectionist to put together anything less.
We always have so much fun, but they’re also a little bit sad too: no one knows where anyone else will be next year, whether or not we’ll ever see each other again, and it’s sometimes too bittersweet to think about, which is why we never talk about it at the time. There are always a couple going up to the big paddock to be usurped by F1, to be molded and packaged until they shine like jewels, until they look and sound like all the others. More sadly, there are always some that won’t be back, for lack of results, for lack of budget, for whatever reason.
But there are always some who will be back again to fight another day, to go through the mill again as they try to prove themselves, as they hope against hope that next year will be their year. And the rest of us who watch have a drink and a laugh with them now, and hope against hope that we’ll be there again next year to watch them fight once more.
"What time do you get in?"
"5.45. Is that okay?"
"Sure. It's an hour and a half drive from the track, but you'll be here in an hour: I'll get Marco to drive." Everyone has trouble getting to Spa: it's in the middle of nowhere, near nothing much and on the way to nowhere else. Most people drive there just because they'll end up driving most of the way anyhow, and with the race being back to back with Monza the teams and series staff all made their way straight up through Switzerland and Germany after the last race.
Alfonso de Orleans Borbon was one of those to drive up after a quick stop in Switzerland to swap cars: after driving to Greece and Turkey and who knows where else this year, his car was due for a service. The dealer gave him a replacement car, equivalent in every way but one: it wasn't a diesel. "I'm used to the diesel engine now, and it runs forever on a tank. Which is something I forgot about...
"So obviously I ran out of fuel, in the middle of nowhere in Germany. I always keep a fold up bicycle in the back, just in case, which was a good thing! It turned out that the nearest service station was 14km away, and I had to ride it while holding a 5 litre plastic tank: after a few miles a guy took pity on me and gave me a lift, but when I got there the guy wouldn't sell me any fuel because it's not safe! I stood there arguing with him for ages but he wouldn't do it: he only finally relented after I threatening to buy fuel for the next car and then syphon it out of his tank!
"And then I had to ride the whole way back, and no one stopped to help me, sadly. I think I lost a few kilos on the way, but at least I didn't have to carry the 20 litre metal tank the guy wanted to sell me!"
Ricardo Risatti had an unusual trip too, mostly because he wasn't expecting it. Sitting at the airport in Rome, waiting for his flight back to Argentina, Trident called and asked where he was: when he told them he was waiting for his flight they were overjoyed, as Pastor Maldonado's injury was more serious than first suspected and he wasn't going to be able to race again. "Cancel your flight and get up to Belgium: we've got a seat for you here." Within minutes his luggage was being taken off the plane and reunited with its owner as he made his way to the ticket office.
Meanwhile, life wasn't any easier at the track: Will Buxton had joined a couple of the guys in taking a lap around the famous circuit, but halfway around the long, long track disaster struck when they were told to get off the circuit. "But we're with GP2: the guys need to see the circuit before tomorrow!" Non-plussed, the marshals told them to get off the track as the medical cars need to come through. "But the medical car doesn't circulate until later this afternoon!" But with no other choice they left the circuit and attempted to make their way back through the forest to the paddock, getting lost almost immediately in the process.
Needless to say, the medical car didn’t circulate until later in the afternoon, at about the time Will finally found the paddock again.
On Friday morning everyone was doing their best to ignore the large black cloud hanging over the support paddock up the hill: it was as though the McLaren penalty had let off a giant quiet bomb, and hordes of people from up there were in our paddock to avoid the fallout. But our teams worked on regardless, in their own pitlane for once, getting the cars ready for free practice.
From the very start of the session Bruno Senna was setting the pace: after a resurgence in Monza the Brazilian was keen to show that he was back on terms with the leaders for speed. He claimed the top spot halfway through the session as the rest of the field was coming in for tyres: 22 cars were in the pits at the same time, and Super Nova won the race to get Luca Filippi out ahead of everyone else, setting the second fastest lap first time around (albeit half a second off Senna's time) just as Andi Zuber understeered into the wall at turn nine, bringing out the red flags and closing the session as his car was unable to be removed in time. Lucas di Grassi finished third fastest, while title rival Timo Glock could do not better than ninth.
Zuber's accident meant yet another non-matching area of car after having to make the loan of a tub from BCN permanent: blue engine and sidepod covers with a red chassis and black nose. "It's a bit of a patchwork car, isn't it?" Paul Jackson sighed back in the pitlane. "We're running a bit low on parts now."
"Well, you could always borrow an engine cover from Minardi Piquet and a rear wing from Durango," I laughed, "that would be quite a look!"
Senna's speed in the earlier session meant all eyes were on him for qualifying, which made his mistake seem bigger than it should have: after setting the early pace the Brazilian lost the rear and spun at the newly reprofiled bus stop corner, bouncing over the kerb and into retirement just ten minutes into the session. The mistake gave the rest of the field a static target to aim at, and they were pushing hard: Glock was fourth and looking faster before coming in for tyres, then lost his chance at pole on the second set after Christian Bakkerud failed to look in his mirrors as he returned to the pits, while Filippi claimed the top spot before returning to the pits with 3 minutes remaining, assuming his work was done.
Unfortunately for the Italian Nicolas Lapierre managed to find one clear lap and just pipped Filippi's time with a minute remaining, taking pole by one hundredth of a second, a shining moment in a torrid season of poor luck for the Frenchman. It was a moment no one could quite believe had happened: in the press conference I couldn't help but laugh after announcing him as the poleman, and he was laughing along with me, overjoyed at his good fortune at last.
"It is a little bit surprising," he smirked, "but from this morning I think we knew we were going to be at the front. From the beginning of the year that is where we need to improve a bit: we haven't been very quick since the start of the season in qualifying. We did a good job and a big step in the last few races, although it was a little bit hard to see because we had some trouble. This morning in free practice went okay, and in qualifying I did a good lap on my second set of tyres which was good enough to get pole. It's good for me, and it's good for the team as well: we had a lot of trouble this year, and I made a few mistakes as well, which did cost us a lot.
"In the standings we are nowhere, but we always knew that we had the ability to do it, and I think tomorrow hopefully we will have the opportunity to show it."
"I was 28 minutes on pole and then I lost it for 11 thousands, which is a very short gap," Filippi acknowledged. "When I came in I said 'this is the limit: maybe we can gain a bit of traction, but that's it.' I was second this morning and second this afternoon, so we just can see that our pace is good and that the car is working perfectly, and I think we have shown a very good pace during the whole day. Tomorrow will be very interesting. Lapierre did a great lap: when I did my lap I was pushing 100%, and I didn’t think someone was able to go quicker. I did a good lap and anyway, with the second set I was almost two tenths quicker in the first sector, and I thought I was able to go a little quicker but I had traffic and I had to quit the lap, but the front row is perfect."
"I knew it was a decent lap, not the best lap in the world, but a decent lap," a slightly rueful Senna noted. "I was confident that it would be competitive to the end of the session, because we were quick in the test session. For sure if I didn’t have Filippi in front of me on the previous lap it would have been better: I lost a lot of time behind him at Les Combes. But I love this circuit: I always have, since the first time I drove here. It’s just amazing: every time we come here I just enjoy it more and more.
“It’s a circuit where you cannot not push hard. You just feel like pushing hard because the circuit invites you too, and I’m loving driving the GP2 car here: it’s the best experience to drive this car here."
Spa being Spa, everyone wrapped up for the weather to come: it always rains there, which meant we were almost disappointed not to get any, the first time any of us had been there and not had some bad weather. It's certainly not a place I'd ever consider camping, which was why it was surprising that Will's friend Oliver had pitched a tent just outside the circuit in Francorchamps and was staying there with a group of mates. They were making the most of it by spending their nights drinking in the bar at the Radisson in nearby Spa.
"No, it's been great," he noted over a couple of beers at the bar. "The people are so friendly, and the beer is great. Not much of a nightlife, though."
"Well if there's any nightlife to be had, here's the guy who'll know where it is: how's it going Xandi?" The Brazilian driver wandered over to say hello, and was looking less than enthusiastic about being there.
"There's nothing to do in this town," he moaned after we made the introductions, "I've been everywhere, and there's just nothing going on."
"Have you called Nelson?"
"Of course, but he's got nothing either. It's not great when the most exciting place to be is the bar at the hotel you're staying at!" Nevertheless he stopped and chatted for a while, unintentionally adding five members to his fan club for the race the next day.
But the relatively decent weather had one fan: Alastair "Stan" Staley was polluting the bus with his evil illness, and he had to save the little strength he had for lifting his cameras, so he spent most of his days staring at his computer screen in the bus and trying not to pass out, which was not helped much by Will's fibre rich diet. "Do I really have to come to the signing?" he whined. "It's a long walk: can't we just use old photos?" He wasn't the only one unhappy about things: Markus Niemela was freezing despite his heritage, and refused his manager's requests to take off his hoodie and show his sponsor's logos: "But it's too cold..."
Nevertheless Will and I worked the crowd, handing out posters with photos of all the drivers and pointing the fans towards the guys, and we got through every poster we brought over as Markus, Ho-pin Tung, Andi Zuber and Nicolas Lapierre signed like machines before the walk back, Stan and Markus dawdling at the back as they moaned to each other all the way home.
When it came time for the race the pitlane became a ghost town, with the teams dragging their equipment up the hill to the F1 pitlane, having decided to start the race there given the big bump at the end of ours, while the drivers were started and let lose to run the long way round to meet up with their teams at the top of the hill.
Lapierre was determined to make the most of his opportunity and was the equal to fellow front row starter Filippi as the lights went out, but di Grassi put in another of his usual demon starts to split the pair into La Source: the Frenchman had the inside line and was safe, but the Italian was on the outside and had no option but to take to the run off area as they hurtled around the corner, losing out to di Grassi and Adam Carroll as they made their way to Eau Rouge.
But the big story was who wasn't with them: Bruno Senna, Timo Glock, Andi Zuber, Kazuki Nakajima and Kohei Hirate had all stalled on the grid, and all bar the latter were pushed into the pits to be restarted, effectively ending their chances of meaningful points over the weekend. The resurfaced front straight was too grippy, and it was on an incline, which meant that all 5 drivers had their foot flat to the floor, restricting their engines to one alternating cylinder and filling the trumpets with fuel: as with Zuber being the fastest man through Eau Rouge the day earlier despite being off the gas for longer than anyone in the famous corner (Filippi was the only driver to run through flat), the start needed a more considered approach. It was cold comfort to learn of their easily rectifiable error afterwards.
With Vitaly Petrov holding up the rest of the field behind them, the front four drivers were able to run and hide: it was soon clear that the winner was going to come from that select band. Lapierre and di Grassi came in together, with the Frenchman almost removing his rival's nose as he scraped out ahead, while di Grassi was slow enough on cold tyres that Filippi (who leapfrogged Adam in their stop one lap earlier, 2 tyres to 4) and Carroll could squeeze by on his outlap: when the Ulsterman rode one kerb too many and threw himself out of the race the Brazilian was promoted to the podium while his title rival scraped the only point available to him, for fastest lap, to try and stem the flow.
"It’s very good for me, for the team as well," Lapierre beamed afterwards. "We won the race in Bahrain, but it was the sprint race which is easier to win: this one is a proper one. We got the pole position yesterday and today we were quite fast, and I think we had a good strategy: that shows to everybody that we can do it. Obviously it’s a bit late, with two races to the end, but at least we did do it, which is good for me and the team."
"It was not just starting second and finishing second, because I was P4 in turn one!" Filippi smirked in the press conference. "I didn’t have a great start, but then in turn one I locked the front and went straight and went into the run off area, so I was P4 and the car was a bit difficult to drive at the beginning, especially in the first three or four laps. Before we pitted I was getting closer to the guys in front of me, and especially coming in I was a lot quicker than Adam. I gave the chance to my team to pass him in the pits and they did a great job on the pitstop. Then the guys in front they pit the lap after, and going out from Eau Rouge a lot quicker I was able to pass Lucas. I think it was a good move – I enjoyed it!
“Then I was second and after Adam had a problem I tried to push and catch Nicolas but I saw it wasn’t possible, so I backed off. I’m very happy, honestly, especially for the pitstop: the team made a good job."
"Well, the start was good for me!" di Grassi laughed. "Off the line I overtook Bruno and Luca when Bruno stalled on the grid, and I was side by side with Nico: in the first part of the race I was quicker than Nico when he had some problems with oversteer and my car was really good. When we changed the tyres the car went too much understeer, and its where I lost the places to Luca and Adam, but I had to manage the situation because I knew that Timo stalled on the grid and I was getting closer in the championship in that moment.
“The risk that I could take was a bit different to Adam, so I tried to be as close as possible to Adam and Luca when they were fighting, and after Adam went out I was at the same pace as Luca and running third. I decided to stay there, and now I am six points off the championship lead: that was the main objective for this race."
Timo Glock was, as expected, less than thrilled with his day in the office: sitting down for dinner with the team he was somewhat philosophical about his problems: "You know, I told the guys that we would have troubles today, because we've never had two good weekends in a row: it's always one good one, one bad one. It's always been like that this year."
"Well, at least that means you've got your timing right then."
"Hah, I bloody hope so!"
And then Ricardo Risatti nerfed the German off the road as they made their way around to the dummy grid the next morning. You've really got to wonder what he's done to so offend the racing gods.
That morning Didier had to warn all the teams about the start, hoping that the drivers would listen and react accordingly. It was a heavy load to have on his shoulders: he knew that any accidents in the tight front straight and people would be pointing the finger in his direction: but he was determined not to let anyone know how worried he was. With the odd finish to the earlier race we had an unusual looking grid: Ho-pin Tung had scored his first point and claimed the reverse pole, ahead of Karun Chandhok, Andy Soucek (first points for him and DPR) and Mike Conway.
As Bernie Ecclestone came over to wish the front row starters, both of them helped out in one way or another by the F1 supremo, Didier stood to the side talking to Karun's dad. "You know, I think he can do it today" Didier smiled, "I have a good feeling for him."
"Well, I'm hoping."
"Really? I thought you would support Karun!"
Bad puns notwithstanding, Didier's feeling was on the money, for once: Tung was slow off the line allowing Chandhok and Soucek to lead the field through the first turn, with di Grassi blistering off the line as usual to follow them through. In a race of many highlights Carroll managed to run side by side with Petrov all along the long, long straight at the top of the hill before going for the outside line and sitting there all the way from Les Combes to Blanchimont to take the position and, most noticeably in respect to the points finish, Chandhok got by Soucek by also running around the outside at Les Combes and staying there, claiming the win as he did so.
There was hardly a dry eye in the house as Chandhok howled with joy on the top step of the podium: it was the first time the Indian national anthem had been played on a grand prix weekend, and almost everyone was delighted for the extremely likeable driver's first victory in the series: even Dave Price came over, slapped him on the back and said "well done, you bastard!" as Chandhok was giving an interview.
"It's all very emotional, for sure!" he laughed in the pitlane. "The team are Italians, and for me it’s ideal! For this year the deal happened literally one week before the Ricard test, so I went through three months of the winter with no sleep, not knowing what I’m going to do this season. To come away with a win and points every weekend since Budapest shows we are coming on strong: it builds up to a good winter. This weekend there’s been a lot of speculation about next year, for India as well, it’s the first time I’ve heard the national anthem at a Formula One Grand Prix, so that’s a special feeling as well. It’s been live on TV in India, so everyone’s going crazy back at home: my phone has loads of missed calls already!"
That phone didn't come out of his hands for the rest of the day as seemingly everyone who knew him wanted to pass on their congratulations. Even a visit to see Bernie after the race held a surprise: "I got up there to say thanks to Bernie and he kept me waiting for a few minutes and then called me in: he just said to me 'nice race today: now you have to sort out the bloody qualifying!' then turned to the guy on the other couch and said 'see? That's why I told you to support him': I turned around and it was Dieter Mateschitz coming over to shake my hand! I'd never even met him before today!"
Even the cooks were overjoyed with the win: Christian Staurenghi has always made a point of being vocal in his support of the guys who are a bit further down the grid ("well you know, the top guys already have lots of fans"), and he dragged Karun in for a photo with the guys, all of whom stuck a piece of masking tape above their noses to mimic the Indian's monobrow: he was laughing harder than anyone in the shot.
"It was good today," Soucek beamed in the back of the team’s truck. "I had a great start: Ho-Pin went a bit wide at the first corner, so I took the inside line and could accelerate earlier. I tried to pull away in the first laps and until lap 10 the car was working perfectly, but then it got a little bit oversteery: I think I pushed a little bit hard and damaged the rear tyres. But it was fantastic! Karun was a little bit quicker in sector one and sector three, and down the straight I think he ran a bit less wing, so he was quicker than me in Eau Rouge. He tried to overtake me on the outside and I didn’t want to close too hard because we could have a crash: I thought the best thing was to keep my position and finish on the podium."
"Yes, it was a great weekend in terms of the championship," di Grassi noted afterwards, "we closed the gap by nine points. I think the last couple of races I was attacking a lot and since Turkey, when I was two points behind Timo, the aim was to push as much as I could, try to win a race, try to score more points. We go to the last event and you cannot do mistakes, but you have to be at the limit all the time. I think it will be a good fight between me and Timo: Timo is an excellent driver, he has been one of the fastest guys for the whole championship, and it’s great to be fighting with him and iSport. We were both unlucky in some races, and we will go to the last event with equal chances of winning the title."
I saw Timo as he was leaving hospitality, but what was there to say? His face on the pitwall said it all, and everyone who watched the race saw how he was feeling. I patted his shoulder, he shook my hand, and we walked in opposite directions: me to get some food, Timo to think about what was to come next.
Two points between them, and the rollercoaster is coming to an end: we're all just waiting now to see how it finishes.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, I took a day out in Manchester. No wait: that's the wrong song. Let me start again.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, I was living a fairly normal life in Brooklyn: I'd moved over there a few years earlier for work, and the river of life has bubbled along for a while until a horrible thing happened and all of our lives changed, mine in particular. My friend Bira, the editor of a famous website then and now, worried about my well-being and was looking for a way to save me. She's always been one to collect strays.
"I've had this idea," she wrote to me one night. "I think you should move over to Italy, and I will too, and we'll go to all of the F1 races and you'll write about it." I wasn't sure what I was reading: I'd been out for more than a few beers with an old boss of mine. She wanted to know what I thought about her plan, what I thought about uprooting my life and moving to another foreign country, another foreign life. I was more than a little confused, the fog in my head failing to clear despite the life-changing words on the screen in front of me. "So, does it turn you on?"
It did, of course. She was right that I should leave; she was always right about these things. We found a place to live in Milan, we went to all the races, I wrote columns and features and interviews, I had my Season In The Sun and my Every Other Sunday, and we moved to London and found a place to share there, and she stopped going to races while I kept on, even after going back to the real job and moving out, and then someone invented GP2 to give me the best of both worlds. At least I think that's why it started.
"I'm coming to Monza," she wrote to me a few weeks ago. "It's been 3 years since I've been to a race, and I want to go home. It's been too long."
We hugged at the airport and talked non-stop all the way to Milan, giggling like a couple of schoolgirls as we caught up on each others lives, even though it had only been a couple of weeks or so since we'd seen each other last. We don't get to meet in the kitchen anymore: we have to make the most of our moments together when they happen now. We were still chatting away as we walked out at Linate airport, Will sitting on his car and wondering what he was going to have to deal with over the weekend: we immediately tried to corrupt him into going into town for a meal and some drinks, but he whined about being too busy before getting lost on the way back to the track, taking a leisurely couple of hours to do so.
Bira wandered off to take a quick stroll through the F1 paddock, while I went over to catch up with people in ours. It didn't take her long to return. "It's a strange place over there: those motorhomes are so huge now! You don't feel welcome at all anymore. And I didn't see anyone I knew, either." We headed off to the car, chatting away as usual while Will drove us out of the park before coming to a sudden halt behind a guy on a bicycle.
"Hey you!" he screamed through the window. "Get the hell out of my way! Come on, move it!" Bira and I slunk back in our seats, amazed at this new face Will was showing the world, before the guy yelled back: "Get a life, buddy! I can ride on this road if I want!"
It was only when he turned around and we saw that famous smile, those famous eyes, and realised it was Bruno Senna was riding back to his hotel.
"Are you crazy?" Will asked as his head followed the flow of traffic alongside the park. "Seriously, riding a bike over here? You must be mad."
"Hey, it's safer than London," Bruno laughed back, "have you ever tried to ride a bike there? The drivers are insane."
"Yeah, he's not wrong there," I added before he waved goodbye and shot out onto the main road, right into the path of an oncoming truck, and sprinted off into the distance.
"I never realised the resemblance was ... so close," the voice came from the back. "You guys are so close to your drivers: it must be a bit weird."
"You should see him when he puts his helmet on..."
We headed off to the hotel to dump my bags before going on to the restaurant for dinner: as usual Christian, who heads the hospitality unit, picked it and, as usual, the food was excellent. Bira, Will and I sat down with Marco and Didier, who also arrived a bit late, and we were soon getting stuck into some amazing pizzas ("they're just like the ones from down the road at the old place" Bira swooned) while Didier cracked jokes and Marco smirked at us all, with Bira taking it in turns to talk with the guys. "I can see why you're here," she whispered to me later as we walked to the car: "it's just like a big family, isn't it? Everyone just gets along."
And then we headed for her hotel and promptly got lost, obviously.
The next morning saw the start of proceedings, with Will and I standing on the pitwall as the teams prepared for free practice. We were joined by Hiroki Yoshimoto, in the paddock as part of his Fuji TV deal, although he was still wishing he could be in one of the cars instead ("I heard that Chandhok hurt his knee: maybe I could fill in for him." "Yoshi, you know that he'll be in the car up until the minute his leg actually fell off." "Yeah I know, but still..."). Timo Glock pulled up in front of us and gave us a wave: his former teammate pretended to throw water from his bottle at the championship leader, who then did the old roll-up-the-window-oops-it's-my-middle-finger mime and laughed inside his helmet. If he was feeling any pressure at the business end of the season, it wasn't showing.
And then the light went green and they were off. It wasn't long before Markus Niemela rejoined us in the pitlane, having spun off into the wall just after the first chicane, a victim of the tricky hard-tyres-and-no-downforce combination. Walking around in the paddock before the session it was interesting to look at the rear wings of the cars and see who had a single element on the lowest setting, who was running two elements, who had their wings higher or lower, who was running a gurney flap. The differences were pretty much as you would expect, except for Super Nova who were running their wings high at the start of the session before dropping them to the bottom setting for the second half.
The Italians set the running in the session: Luca Filippi was quickest early on despite the difference in wing settings, although Giorgio Pantano soon came out and topped him. The pair fought it out all through the session, with Filippi getting some nice tows down the main straight and Pantano running by himself by right along the inside wall, a trick he has used for years that no one else seems to have picked up on, and he just managed to squeeze ahead as the session closed, with Adam Carroll in third place.
"Great session, huh?" Marco smiled when he got back to the paddock to change out of his suit: one of his many jobs is to sit in the safety car with the driver in case he is needed to give instructions, and he secretly loves wearing his FIA race suit and helmet. "Should be good for qualifying. But man, I've got to go to the toilet now."
"I don't care," Will and I piped up in unison, the answer shocking Bira completely, compounded by our laughter.
"I can't believe you just said that!"
"It's a running joke here," I laughed. "Besides, I've heard you tell me that about a million times..."
"I'm Israeli: you have to tell people where you're going at all times, just in case something happens."
"Okay, I'm going to get a coffee now, just in case you're worried."
"I don't care," Will intoned automatically in my wake.
Pantano picked up where he left off in qualifying, taking the top spot comfortably after Filippi struggled to repeat his form from earlier in the day: Lucas di Grassi was delighted to take the other front row position on the grid, with Vitaly Petrov up to his best qualifying performance so far, matching the Brazilian's time but losing the position as he set the time later in the session. Filippi came in seventh fastest, just ahead of Glock: the gap up to di Grassi meant a certain change in the championship fight, although there were few in the paddock who were not betting on Pantano to add to his dual wins at the track from last year.
And he was delighted with his perfect start to the weekend when he made it to the press conference: "I think so, but anyway we don’t say it’s just because it’s my home circuit. Nearly every race when everything was going well we were nearly always in the top four, and here for sure it’s a bit special and I’m at my home circuit. I like this circuit, but if we see also my team-mate he made a very big improvement and he’s there in third place, and that means the car and everything was working very well." He had Bira giggling afterwards with his usual tactic of answering questions I hadn't asked, something that we usually shrug off with an 'oh well, that's Giorgio' comment: it's always interesting to get a fresh perspective on something that you just take almost for granted.
That, and I put on my professional voice when I ask the questions, apparently. I didn't even know I had one.
But if Pantano was happy to take his home pole, it was clear where di Grassi's attentions lay: "Pantano did a very, very good lap in both sessions: with the first set I was able to keep close with him, and I couldn’t improve on the second one due to a lot of factors. But I was surprised that this was the first qualifying of the year that iSport was not very strong, because normally they are very strong in qualifying: I was expecting Glock to be again very quick.
“But the race is very long tomorrow – 32 laps - and a lot of things can happen. We have to focus to improve the car overnight and concentrate on the race: that’s it."
Meanwhile, Petrov was just overjoyed to be in his first press conference (at first he didn't believe Will when he went to collect the Russian: "You want me there? No: what for?" "Because you came third, Vitaly..."): "It feels very good, but for the beginning in free practice and first set of new tyres we had a little problem with the brakes, but we improved a lot: I want to say thank you to my team because they did a really good job, and changed the car very well for my style to be able to drive on this circuit. I showed what I can show today..."
It was not long after the press conference that Bira realised she'd been deserted: she was staying at the same hotel as some of the journalists who work for her, and it was about that time that she realised they'd forgotten her when they went home. Personally I was secretly happy: it meant I got to spend a bit more time with one of my only friends who could come to the paddock, understand that I've got to work, and be happy to catch up in the odd quiet moments, because she's lived this life too.
We sat down for dinner soon after, laughing between calls when her embarrassed colleagues rang, all trying to make it up to her, although she laughed the loudest after the last call: "They came up the road at the golf course to get in here but the gate was locked, and when they turned around the gate behind them was locked too: they're trying to negotiate their release now. It just goes to show: you don't mess with karma!"
The next morning we were set for the usual autograph session: set, that is, except for the lack of two Italian drivers who were caught in traffic. We held off for as long as we could, and then grabbed di Grassi for the session: at least he has an Italian name, and can speak the language. We drove over and he sat down at the Bridgestone marquee next to Adam Carroll and Jason Tahinci, but the spare seat beckoned next to him.
"I should sit down and pretend to be a driver," I stated as the table was prepared in front of them.
"Go on then," Lucas laughed, "we'll see if anyone notices!"
"I could pretend to be Mike Conway: I've got the right colour hair for it."
"Yeah, why not? You could be his older brother, at least. Or maybe his uncle!"
"Thanks mate: I think I'll go and look for the other guys now!"
Giorgio never did show up, much to the disappointment of two Pantano fans who waited through the whole signing session for an appearance by their hero (Adam eventually signed one of his own cards with the Italian's name and handed it over, saying "Giorgio asked me to give you this"), but Luca finally made it just as the session came to an end, only to be disappointed as the fans had already left. All but the Pantano fans, of course.
"Quick Luca, go over and talk to those two guys: they're big fans."
"Okay! So, you guys want me to sign something for you? I hear you waited a long time."
"Yeah we did, but to be honest we want Giorgio - I'm sure you're good, but we are Pantano fans."
"But he couldn't even be bothered to come here!"
"Yes, but maybe he's saving his strength to beat you this afternoon!"
It was a fortuitous call, ahead of one of the most exciting races this year. There's no way to do the race justice in one paragraph, but the race report is online (http://www.gp2series.com/en/website/gp2series/news/index.php?news=tcm:2-12042) for anyone wanting the full story: the short version is that Pantano blew the competition into the weeds despite three safety car periods; di Grassi fell off the track with a gearbox problem on the second last lap after a strong drive to hold second, which Filippi inherited after a superb drive through the field, the only man able to run at Pantano's pace; and Glock did his championship challenge a power of good by taking third despite spinning Conway around at the first corner and falling down to 20th before putting in one of the best fightback drives ever seen in the series.
"Nearly all the weekend was going perfect for me," a beaming Pantano noted in the press conference. "We have a good feeling, I have a good feeling with Monza. The car was perfect today, and I know I have just to go out from the first corner and try to push the maximum I can, and that’s what I’ve done. Everything was perfect from yesterday and today, and I hope also tomorrow.
“The only difficulty was when the safety can was coming in: you have some gap and then you have to close back and restart with some cars behind you. Here on the long straight there is a good chance they can overtake you, and you have to manage the situation and just to pull a little gap between you and second and try not to give them a chance in the next braking. That was the only problem I had today."
"It’s very nice to be back on the podium," Filippi smiled radiantly, "especially at home at Monza. In Italy you have a special sensation and feeling, so I wanted this podium very much. We started very well from free practice when we were P2. In qualifying I went over the exit curve a bit too much, so starting from P7 I think P2 was the best result possible for us: Giorgio was the quickest today, so P2 was the best result possible. Of course I was pushing very hard: with Negrao it was a fun fight, and with Nakajima I passed him in Roggia but then he cut to stay in front of me, and he would have been penalised if he didn’t make a mistake by himself in the safety car.
"I’m really happy, honestly: today I started from seventh and finished second, and tomorrow I start seventh again and I will try to do the same!"
After the race Glock was almost glowing with joy as he basked in what was being referred to as his karmic redistribution of points: "That race showed the whole way of the season: it was up and down, and after the start when I had to go through the gravel, I was P20 after the first lap, and I couldn’t believe it! It was bad luck, but in the end we decided to pit under safety car, and when we went out the safety car came in so we didn’t win anything, just lost more time than anything. The only luck we had was with the second safety car, but before that for two laps I thought about finding the exit of the track, driving the car to Germany and having a beer at home!
"I couldn’t believe it: Lucas was second and on the way to scoring more points and take the championship lead again. But after two laps I thought okay, we have to fight back as hard as we can, like the whole year, and its what I did. I was P9 after the second safety car, and then I was only behind Senna and all these guys who were fighting hard: I stayed behind and waited for the mistakes and overtook them after. At the end I was P4, and with the luck at the end in the last couple of laps when Lucas had a problem with his car I opened the gap in the championship again.
"I think its maybe a bit equal now: we had six races without a point and now he’s had the bad luck..."
"I wasn't planning to watch the race, but it just happened," Bira laughed afterwards. "I wanted to see it, but I had a meeting with Nick Fry at Honda. We were sitting there talking in his office, and he had the screen on behind him, and I saw it all going crazy and just said 'wow'. So he turned around and started watching it too!" But more importantly, she said, was the fact that she had conned, er, convinced one of her journalists to go into Milan for the evening. "We need to go and get some Fiorentina steaks - you know we do!" But I had to finish writing and, as time ticked away, the chance of that mouth-watering potential got further and further away...
And then it was Sunday, an early start yet again, and it was probably just as well that I hadn't gone for the drive: given our ability to get lost together (obviously it's all her fault, but as we're friends I'll pretend to take some of the blame...) I may not have made it back to the track in time, and I would have missed another cracker.
I would have missed Pantano's storming start from 8th to be 2nd at the end of the 1st lap, I would have missed his impatience pushing him down to 7th when he tapped poleman Ricardo Risatti, I would have missed his drive back up the grid which was thwarted by Sebastien Buemi, and his refusal to come in to change his front wing at the end of the race despite the black and orange flags, the bloodrush decision to put on a show in front of his home fans. I would have missed Glock's tailing of Pantano, his patience and his persistence, and his eventual blast off once he got out in front. I would have missed Filippi's clinical slicing through the field to push Glock all the way home for his second second of the weekend, and Bruno Senna's long overdue podium after a storming drive to third.
And I would have missed everything else that happened, too. It was a brilliant weekend for racing.
"We knew it would be quite difficult to be on the podium," Glock smiled afterwards, "but we fight every time until the last moment, and that's the reason why we are sometimes on the podium where some guys would not expect us to be, and that’s a positive thing about the whole team. The race today was quite difficult: I lost the start against Giorgio, and I stayed behind him to go with him and I could overtake fourth and fifth, I can’t remember who it was, and then I could overtake Senna, and then Giorgio spun in the first corner, and at the end I overtook Risatti, and the positive thing was that I could go quickly away.
"And I survived the lead."
"In Monza this is what I wanted," Filippi laughed back in the paddock. "I came here with one goal, which was to win, but the podium is nice and I’m happy. You saw there were so many people watching: GP2 is getting more popular every season, and now the people are coming earlier to watch GP2 because it’s fun and everybody likes it now. It was really nice to do these podiums in front of thousands of Italian people watching me. Listen, we have a better show than F1: GP2 is THE category, better then Formula One...
"Maybe I can ask Bernie if he can swap and make GP2 the most important and Formula One is the learning category, for the young guys to learn: young guys like Coulthard or Barrichello!"
"Yeah it’s been a great weekend," Senna confirmed. "In qualifying I really though we were going to have another one of those weekends where you just get frustrated, but really I cant be more happy than this: with all the conditions that we faced it was a good fight for the positions that we achieved, and I am pretty happy with third today to be honest. I think maybe if Risatti wasn’t in front I could have probably pulled away and not been under pressure from Timo and Luca, but when you have a slower car in front of you it’s so difficult to fend off two fast guys. Well, another podium and back into the points."
And then it was time to pack up and go, back to another airport as the weekends get shorter and shorter. "I had a great time with you guys," Bira smiled as I got ready to go. "It's much more friendly down here! I wish you were staying over though: we never did get to have that steak."
"No we didn't: I guess I owe you one. Maybe when you get back" I said as I picked up my bag.
"Maybe, yeah. I'm really glad I came now: I didn't know what I was going to do here, but it was fun. And I got to see you having fun, too."
And I do, almost every race weekend. Because it turned me on when she asked me that question five years ago and, happily, it still does today.