Another long day, another one for the books…
by Pierre Martins
One thing lead to another and I found myself behind the wheel of Keith Rose’s spunky ‘73 RSR in a One-Hour endurance race at Kyalami. Well actually, I’m not so sure whether one could really call a one hour race an ‘endurance race’, but that’s what the race organisers decided to call it, so who am I to argue?
Anyway, I love Historic Endurance racing and I must say I was particularly delighted when the local Historic Racing fraternity decided to revive the legendary Kyalami Nine-Hour endurance race a couple of years ago. Granted, it’s not the Nine-Hour of old when thousands upon thousands of spectators came from afar and camped out at the track for the entire weekend. Unfortunately motorsport in South Africa is not like that anymore and I doubt whether we’d ever see that level of enthusiasm from spectators again…
For competitors however, the new 9-Hour ‘Retro’ event gave every Souff Effrikan with an uncle who owned an eligible, and sometimes not-so-eligible classic race car, an opportunity to run their cars in the inaugural Nine-Hour-Retro event back in 2008. The event was split into a few 8-lap sprint races, a One-Hour Enduro and the feature race, a Three-Hour Enduro.
The Three Hour turned out to be a spectacle of note. David Piper and a few of his cronies even made the trip from Europe to join the fun. Grids were full and racing was fantastic. I was entered to share my mate Dave Fourie’s 911 RSR, but we had to sit out due to gearbox problems. Fate dealt us yet another unexpected uppercut this year. We tested Dave’s RSR at Midvaal Raceway the weekend prior to the Nine-Hour and the car seemed fine, but when Mario prepped the car he found the crown-wheel & pinion were in no shape for long-distance racing and there was no time to bring the parts in from Porsche AG.
You can read about that test by clicking here.
But one of the advantages of having good friends in the racing fraternity means that you’re never without a ride for too long. Franz Pretorius entered both his 956 and 911 RSR for the Three Hour and obviously wanted to concentrate on the 956, so when he got wind that Dave was out, he offered his RSR to Dave for the race, and Keith Rose asked me to co-drive with him in the One Hour, so both of us were back in business. How sweet is that?
Keith Rose… I’ve met some decidedly windswept and interesting people in motorsport over the years and I gotta say, Mr Keith ‘Norval’ Rose is right up there. Most South Africans will remember the TV commercial with the little white mouse running on top of a BMW steering wheel, well that was Keith’s work. So was the ‘He aint heavy, he’s my brother’ ad with the elephants and lately the James Dean ad for Allan Gray with the Porsche 917s, amongst others. Keith is a producer and owns a company by the name of ‘Velocity Films’.
Velocity Films has won nearly every local and international advertising award for creativity and production excellence. In fact, the company has been awarded 7 gold, 6 silver and 7 Bronze Lions at the Cannes International Advertising Festival.
Added to this is Keith's induction into the Clios TV Hall of Fame, with additional awards from advertising and production competitions in Europe, America and Asia.
Velocity has become recognised as a major player worldwide, confirmed by its top 10 positions in the Palme d'Or standings at Cannes two years running and its conclusion in the Gunn Report.
But racing is a different kind of action to film-making and I wondered how many takes would be necessary for Keith to get his lines right, seeing that he’s never driven Kyalami before. So, on this occasion the roles got reversed, so to speak. I became the ‘director’ with him acting out the lines around Kyalami. Didn’t take him long to get into character though. He’s a quick learner and pedalled well, but obviously needed as much track time as possible, so the plan of action was that he’d do all the practice sessions as well as official qualifying for the Sprint Races.
Yours truly had to qualify the RSR for the One Hour Enduro, which was pretty much one of those ‘just-get-in-and-drive’ scenarios where you put two and two together as you go along and depend on experience more than anything else. Mind you, I’ve had times when I had to get behind the wheel of strange cars and head straight into a race with no prior practice in the car whatsoever and not knowing what to expect, but your never heard complaints from me. No sir, I was just too happy to swing my ass into the driver’s seat and take control of the situation.
As a matter of fact, I have always found that the best way to get my mind straight whilst strapping myself into a race car, is to think about it as ‘taking control of the situation’, because that’s what you’re actually doing innit? Besides, there is no time for self-doubt when you’re behind the wheel. Period.
This time it was no biggie, really. I knew the car pretty well from the previous weekend’s testing, so it was relatively easy to turn in some pretty decent times, qualifying 4th fastest behind Franz Pretorius in the 956 on pole, Steven Dick in a Lola T70 in second spot and Colin Frost in the Lucky Strike 917 in third. Checking the time sheets we discovered that I was quickest of all the 911s throughout all classes on Friday, so needless to say I was pretty stoked about that.
Hey cut me some slack for bragging a little, will ya? He-he.
Anyway, Saturday came and Dave finally arrived with Franz’ RSR in tow after Mario had it in his shop for two solid days fixing suspension stuff-ups. Dave’s day ended early though, engine popped just six laps into the morning warm-up session. Bummer.
Keith pulled two respectable fourth places out the hat in the sprint races, but let’s fast-forward to the One Hour Enduro…
To say that we were a bit disorganised is an understatement. Keith started the race and was supposed to do the first half hour, but got tired and came in ten minutes early for the fuel-stop and driver change. We filled the car to the brim before the race and decided to do a 20L come what may splash-&-dash during the driver change, but he signalled no fuel required – so I hopped in and rejoined the race.
With almost a three-quarter tank of fuel at my disposal I got into the swing of things without much ado, passed a gazillion cars on my out-lap and found good rhythm with the car. I intended to enjoy myself, and right on cue that weird phenomenon set in when you know you’re quick, but everything kinda happens in slow-motion. You almost become detached, although you remain super-aware and in control. Racing nirvana, driver’s orgasm, call it what you want, it’s a very special feeling…
It’s nice when they frantically wave blue flags and people get out of your way, but somewhere along the line I had to think about where I was in this race. There were about 30 cars and I was fourth quickest, but I didn’t know how much time we lost with the pit stop and how the leaders were doing. To my calculations there could only be three cars ahead of me, the Porsche 956, followed by the Lola T70 and the Lucky Strike Porsche 917.
A couple of laps later I saw the Gunston-coloured T70 parked on the way up to Wesbank corner and thought- “Hell, I’ve just been handed third…?” – and on the next lap I caught a whiff of the 917’s tail entering Sunset corner. A few corners later I was on him, out-foxed him into turn one and learned something new – In a 911 you can tailgate a 917 without losing your line of sight, he-he-he…
But where was the almighty 956? Was he out? Was I in fact leading the race, must I keep pushing, ease up, or what? Like I said, we were so disorganised we didn’t even have a pit board and my guys on pit-wall were all just standing there like a bunch of zombies. No signals, no nothing, so I just kept circulating, passing more cars per lap than I care to remember. I lapped my mate Mark Saunders in the little 924 twice, and by that time we had a whole vocabulary of sign language going, waving back and fro and giving each other the thumbs-up and other obscene hand signals. Hell, I had more communication with him than I had with the guys on pit wall, he-he.
About four laps from the end I picked up a slight vibration from the clutch, so I started paying attention to short-shifting, feeding the power on instead of just hoofing it, you know, all those little things you do when you’re on that fine line of nursing the car home without losing too much time…
And that was that. The black & white table cloth dropped and I was tad disappointed that the race was over so soon. Back in the pits I learned that Franz finished first in the 956. Turned out he slacked off halfway through the race and we were circulating on different parts of the track, that’s why he never came to lap me as expected. I finished just behind Josh Broome in a super-quick little yellow Ford Escort at the line. He was hounding Keith during the first part of the race, but I passed him on my out-lap after the pit stop, but as it turned out we dropped a lap during our pit stop, which meant I had to pass twice to finish second, duh.
So the little yellow Escort finished second, how ‘bout that? See that’s what I like about endurance racing. You get plenty seat time and it’s not just about outright speed and lap times. Strategy and consistency also play a big part. By the way, they’re talking about a Six-Hour Enduro for the 2010 event. Man, that’s really gonna be something!
In hindsight, I gotta say this was one of the most enjoyable races I’ve had in a long time. It sure was nice to compete against such a mixed bag of classic race cars. I’ve always said that putting a classic, but perfectly race-worthy car into a museum is like taking your dad and forcing him into a retirement home before his time. It just aint right.
That’s why I have a special appreciation for well-kept old race cars that are lovingly restored and maintained by true enthusiasts who believe that historic race cars belong on race tracks, not museums.
See ya next year.