Nine is a magical, spiritual number.
In Chinese culture, for example, the word for “nine” sounds the same as the word for “long-lasting”. There were nine muses in Greek mythology, nine levels to the Mayan underworld, nine elements in Vaisheshika philosophy. How many lives does a cat have? Exactly.
So it’s little wonder that, in the leadup to the final BPCC race of the season at Curborough, the question on everyone’s lips was this: who would come ninth?
Not first position, of course. That would be Wing Racers, as it has been for every race since 1936. Rumours persist that the team were winning races before the invention of the car, or the pedal.
And neither did many people concern themselves with the podium places, hotly contested though they were, with multiple Royce and Apollo cars in with a shout and Swebbelli also showing pace.
No, it was the battle for ninth which really got the crowd going. Early indications showed that the coveted honour would be contested by Swebelli Car 10, the Royce Car 11, and… us. Cranks. 2019 newcomers, amnesty-car-inheriters, and certainly the fastest team in possession of a flashing pub sign. There was an extra incentive for us, too: if we could secure ninth in the race, we’d also secure ninth in the championship. It would be beautifully symmetrical if we could pull it off.
Now, our reliability record in recent races has been improving, which is to say that in earlier races it was catastrophic. We ran the first hour at Shennington with our floorpan dragging along the ground, suffered multiple punctures, and dropped our chain more often than Danny Dyer drops his H’s. At Blackbushe, Laurence wasted ten laps after a serious drivetrain failure.
So given the gravity of our position in this race, we were extra vigilant for mechanical gremlins. And it is therefore unsurprising that we realised that the spokes on our rear wheels were baggier than MC Hammer’s trousers, and that our front wheels were essentially hanging off, as much as twenty minutes before the flag dropped rather than five laps afterwards.
“Don’t worry about the chain,” said engineer Al. “I’ve put a fix in. It shouldn’t* drop off now”
He didn’t actually say “terms and conditions apply”, but we all heard it nonetheless.
At precisely 1:01pm, with the car suitably rejuvenated, we set off from tenth position on the grid. Johnno, our fastest driver, was under strict instructions to hang onto the back of the rapid newcomers in Car 59, a direction which he performed flawlessly for exactly one corner before heading backwards. Note for next year – maybe warmups aren’t such a bad plan after all.
But our strength has never been our one-lap pace. In fact, some would argue that our strength has never been our any-lap pace, but we try to ignore such unpleasantness. Whilst we may not be particularly rapid, we have learned to ignore the manic sprint of the first few laps, and concentrate on finding a steady rhythm, fuelled by sausage rolls and flapjack.
So after Russ had come back from his first stint, we were up to a frankly unbelievable sixth position. This was, of course, miles off target for us. Ninth place was slipping from our grasp. Fortunately, Al and Laurence realised the danger we were in and quickly brought us back on target. We began to consolidate our grip on the perfect ninth position, gradually putting time onto Royce 11 – who, themselves, were having an enjoyable race, pursuing the suave Royce 61 with its Lay-Z-Boy style seat.
The only thing which could throw us would be one of our traditional mechanicals. A chain drop would cost us several laps, bringing Royce 11 right back into the mix.
But as the hours wore on and our chain stubbornly refused to fall off (as long as you didn’t use top gear or bottom gear) we started to believe that maybe – just maybe – we might be able to take the flag. It was all about cautious, sensible driving, keeping the lap times in the steady 80 second bracket, and bringing her home in one piece.
“Got it Johnno?” I asked, as he prepared for his stint. “Like the Fun Lovin Criminals. Everything cool,
everything smooth. Right?”
“Right!” agreed Johnno, before elbowing the arriving Al out of the car and scorching off down the pitlane straight into a dogfight with the faster car 59. When his foe decided inexplicably to brake for the completely flat first corner, Johnno rammed all eight tonnes of car 47’s pig-iron chassis into 59’s perfectly-formed posterior, causing some agitation from its driver.
“Dear me, you seem to have collided with me. Please try to be a little more careful,”
“Gosh, I’m sorry, what a silly mistake. I’ll make sure I don’t do it again.”
This is not an exact transcript of the conversation which took place – there may have been some different words used – but hopefully the reader will get the gist.
Thankfully, neither car was badly damaged, and Johnno calmed things down enough to finish the rest of his stint without incident.
Darkness fell, and the pub sign was illuminated, instantly blinding anyone within 10 metres and giving the rest of the spectators the impression they were at a very low-key rave. Still, it helped us to see where our pit garage was, and made a few people chuckle, so that’s the main thing. The sign has become easily the most popular thing about our team – since its inception in 2016, it has been twice to the Nurburgring, once to the Tour of Britain (where it found its way onto national television) and to every round of the BPCC. It might even get its own Twitter account at some point.
But back to the key business in hand. Several teams were still scrapping for the minor placings (from 2nd to 8th, and from 10th downwards) and we were particularly impressed by the pace of car 57, the new entry from Trinity Zoomers. But the key question – who would come ninth – was close to being resolved. At somewhere around 20:02, Laurence took the bell and, in the slipstream of the luxurious Royce 61, set off on his final lap.
(He later told us that he had every intention of jumping ahead of 61 on the start-finish straight, but this tactic was cruelly blocked by 61’s unsportsmanlike behaviour of “speeding up so Laurence couldn’t follow”)
90 seconds later, a generic set of headlights accompanied by a god-awful creaking told us that 47
was approaching the line. The crowd went wild. We whooped, hollered, and cheered. We did cartwheels, we set off fireworks, we made loud, heartfelt acceptance speeches. Ninth place in the race, ninth place in the championship. The double crown was secured.
Anyway, next year we’re hoping for top six.
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