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Diary of an amateur racer


My alarm goes off at 6:00 AM on Saturday, but I’ve been awake for twenty minutes. I sit up in bed and run two fingers across the back of my neck which reveals an almost unbelievable amount of perspiration.

I head off to the bathroom to console myself and come across my reflection in the mirror. I tell myself “Let’s do this.” As I get dressed and head off to Kyalami, I know that a lifelong dream is about to come to true; I will be qualifying for my first ever race.

Seven other journalists were to join me in identical Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI DSG models, which had been gutted and fitted with a roll cage and of course, the specific branding relevant to the sponsors of the event.

I arrive at the circuit and head off to meet the ever-friendly Public Relations Manager of Porsche and Bentley South Africa, Christo Kruger, who showed me to the media centre for the weekend and then eventually to the Volkswagen briefing room.

We then received our OMP racing suits from ATS Motorsport, all finished in blue, with matching boots and the relevant sponsors’ names embroided over the flame-proof material. We draw keys from a box and I get car number 2, finished in Cornflower blue and branded with Engen Primax stickers amongst others.

I head off to the change room to try on my new racing attire, and again find myself looking in the mirror; the room lightens, my vision blurs slightly (not for the site of myself, well maybe), but mostly because everything hit home properly for the first time.

As I made my way to pit garage one, my hearing becomes slightly impaired at the sound of my own heart beat. We get to the pits after what felt like a slow-motion walk, before the world around me resumed service as usual.

I looked at my car and hopped in to get the settings for my four-point harness right before we set off. “The tyres are new, so take it easy the first few laps,” a VW technician says as he does the relevant checks on my vehicle before the first session.

Before I knew it, our 20 minutes had begun. The little 1.2-litre TSI Polo whispered to life, I selected the “S” mode for the DSG gearbox which allowed me to use the steering-mounted paddles. I set off and got a feel for the car after about two laps practise.

I managed to qualify first for the race the next day, which I thought would calm my nerves, but it made the pre-race jitters that more palpable.

Sunday, race day. I arrived at the circuit around three hours before the race and loaded up with some caffeine to calm my nerves. I watched other classes race and qualify throughout the morning before making my way through to get changed.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any more intense, a bombshell is dropped in the pit lane a few minutes before the race. There was to be a reverse grid, meaning I would have to start from last place.

We start the warm-up lap and by the time I made it to the starting grid, I had calmed down. All of my colleagues and competitors lined up in front of me with some receiving a head start while I waited to set off.

Going in to the first corner, I tried to overtake my friend and colleague Mark Jones, who was having none of it. By corner two there was already drama as Dennis Droppa and Michele Lupini nudged one another, allowing Mr Jones through and leaving me with it all to do.

By lap two, I had managed to overtake Andrew Leopold and decided that former racing driver Lupini was next. I made a move into turn three and it stuck. As we barrelled down the back straight, I knew he might go for it into Sunset Corner so I took it flat.

After that underpants-ruining experience, I had to chase down Mrs Droppa and Jones. I overtook Droppa, but it appeared that his vehicle had a technical problem. After that, it was an uphill battle to catch Jones who was well ahead after my various tussles.

It was at this point that I realised what the ‘red mist’ is as this figurative phenomenon descended upon me. I only had one goal, catch that car by any means necessary. With two laps to go I had caught Jones, his red Cell C Polo now a few centimetres from my front bumper. But I knew, with all of his racing experience, it would be unwise to attempt a bold overtaking manoeuvre.

The last lap came and I knew it would take something drastic to unseat him, so I pushed and had a look up the inside several times while maintaining a narrow gap between my Polo and his.

As we approached the final two turns, I had more pace through the aptly named Cheetah corner and as we neared the penultimate Ingwe bend, I made sure I braked as late as possible.  Realising he had left his braking too late, I immediately knew  I had to stick to the racing line.

He understeered, pushing the sticky Dunlop rubber too far, resulting in the appearance of a gap, which I took, leaving me to cross the line victorious. The drama, the thrill and the feeling of the entire experience will no doubt stay with me forever. My first real race, my first win, my dream had finally come true.


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Article written by Sean Nurse
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