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race report Rene' DALAIS

ZWARTKOPS JAN 2010. WHAT A WEEK-END !

 

2 days before the meeting I started rushing through administrative paperwork to get a drive in “cousin Olly's” BE GT40! Excited and honoured by this “invitation” to drive such a legendary car.

I had long ago bid for a flight to watch the race as a simple spectator and there I was, landing at JNB international at 06H30 on Friday morning, after a 10 hour flight and a - just about - sleepless night, doing my normal job, flying the highly computerized B-777 from Paris !

 

Rushing from OR Tambo to Zwartkops, I get a quick brief on the GT 40, still wearing my flying uniform.

Once in the appropriate racing suit, the plan is to go off for 2 slow reconnaissance laps before coming back to tighten the old butterfly wheel nuts. However, soon after exiting the pits - this is my first drive in the GT 40 and around Zwartkops – I find the cars' behaviour a bit upsetting : steering seems imprecise and its demultiplication doesn't help, the Bailey family really builds strange cars ! Braking at the hairpin after the 1st lap induces high vibrations and I have to use huge

corrections on the steering wheel to keep the car in a straight line. Looks like something must be wrong, loosing a wheel ? Yes, I won't make it back to the pits and after stopping on the side of the track, there's the nut lying miserably 5m behind the car ! All these efforts for just 1 lap around Zwartkops ! It reminds me of a frustrating experience in SEP 2009 at Kyalami on a Dodge-Reynard with a minor but paralysing electrical problem. Is there a curse trying to race in South Africa ?

 

Once the nut problem sorted out and the wheels well tightened, off I go for a few practice laps getting the feel of this heavy and powerful piece of machinery. The handling is very different from that of a modern carbon single-seater with plenty of downforce. It reminds me of a French built light prototype with a Yamaha 1000 cc / 145 HP engine running on sport/road tyres, the PRM Fun-Boost, except that this GT40 is far heavier, much more powerful and thus a bit intimidating and daunting. I made some minor adjustments on the front wheel axle will make the car more stable on braking and lighter to drive. I'm still cautious on acceleration because of the abundance of torque and power but the throttle is pleasant and easy to dose, as are the brakes. I now feel more confident and can overcome the light understeer coming out of the hairpin with the right amount of throttle.

 

The qualifying session is OK with only a spin coming into the hairpin with too much brake trailing. I'm starting to “understand” the car which is fun to drive with its “chewing gum” behaviour (cross-ply tyres ?). However, there's no messing around in the quick corners, I still have to be cautious especially with the gear lever which I find a bit too far back and makes downshifting from 3 to 2 a bit tricky and tiring on my left shoulder (some aches & pain in that one for a couple of days). I would also have liked a spacer to bring the steering wheel a bit closer to the body. Anyway, I'm so excited that I forget to be fussy and as Greg puts it : I'll have some homework to do to knock off 3 seconds from my 1'14'' qualifying time, to catch up with the rest of the GT 40 fleet !

What I desperately need now is plenty of sleep, off to bed at 11 PM for a 6 AM wake-up. What a day !

 

Race day (Sat 30 JAN).

I'm in for the 8 lap, pre 66 race, starting on 17 th spot. The Daytona Coupe in front of me screws up the rolling start, letting a huge gap settle in between the cars ahead of us ! It will take me 2 or 3 laps to catch-up and start a real dice with the faster guys, like Chris CLARK, GT 40, holding on to his “freedom fighting” door and the Mike KNIGHT/ Alan BAILLEY Lotus 23B. I have a go at Chris and overtake him at the hairpin. His door problems are solved and he recovers his position in the straight. The last lap is exciting, with some friction between the previous two but I'm not aggressive enough to take advantage of it and still have plenty to learn in handling the GT 40 in marginal situations. My lap times are down to 1'12'', 10 th position and the car is unscathed which means that driver and owner are happy !

 

Next comes the 45min TT race in which I'll be sole driver. I have a super dice with a Mustang but a couple of laps after overtaking it, I spin once again in the hairpin and lose 2 positions. It takes me a few laps to regain the lost terrain just before letting Mike NEL go by in his P4. Noticing smoke and cars spinning on the opposite part of the circuit, I carefully make my way through the difficult to section, which has treacherous oil all over the tarmac. So i decide to pull in to the pits for the 3min compulsory stop with the safety car out, just as Peter BAILEY had suggested on the previous day ! What great coaches they are. The end of the race is uneventful except for some faster cars surprising me on braking : not always easy to see the traffic catching-up in the fish-eye mirrors where “objects are closer than they appear” and once again a frustrating restart with too many surprised drivers lagging far back and spread out behind the Saftey Car. In the heat of the race, I once thought of the Le Mans drivers (J Ickx in the GT 40) and wondered how they could handle a 24 H race, but Zwartkops doesn't give you any spare time to dream...


 RENE GT40


Later on that day we were surprised to discover I was 7th overall and even more surprised at prize giving with a
2nd place on the Index of performance classification !!!

Any body for an explanation on how that is calculated ?

 

Now that I made it “safely home” after this first contact with the BEC GT40 and Zwartkops, I'll have to improve my performance ! With some hindsight and checking the videos, I come up with some very basic evidence : I'll just have to brake later and harder to get to play with the faster GT 40s...  Maybe one day, should anyone need a co-driver ?

 

Many thanks to all of you for a warm welcome.

 


René DALAIS.

 

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