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Max Wakefield

"There’s a look, you could call it a sunset stare. The day’s gone well. A cowboy sits on a fence. Thousands of sheep have been herded across a wilderness the size of Wales. Though fly-blown, dirty and tired, he smiles. In another dimension a racing driver sits on the pits wall, grinning. It feels good to be on pole. He calls across the pit-lane to his team, telling his team not to touch a thing: ‘The car is perfect’. Both men are feeling something that can be summed up in one word: Satisfaction.

I’m at Le Mans, on the Bugatti circuit. I stare at the man who qualified on pole. There’s one word to fit his look: Smug. My Benetton, a Formula One car with nigh on eight-hundred horsepower is not stiff enough and we are unable to find a balance to suits the track. ‘Guys, the car’s a heap of crap. Change everything.’

I leave them at it and go to the motel. Lying on the bed I pray for rain. But behind the curtain the world is basking in the beautiful sunset. It’s four a.m, I wake hungry - no supper. I pad across the room, look out of my window and the moon gazes back. It’s a beautiful night, all quiet, stars and still. In a few hours I’ll be trying to push my car round corners as fast as I am able. When you do it right it’s like bending light. It feels as if you can touch the moon, breathe fire and own the universe; for these moments you’re immortal. I open the window wide, and mutter: ‘Oh moon, make it rain.’ I leave the curtain open and return to bed.

Normally I wouldn’t wake at six. But the sound of rain is so loud I hear the splashes splashing. The cosmos shouts: ‘I’ve pumped up the tyres, now you ride the bicycle home.’

I’d have been a willing servant of the cosmos’ challenge. But something beyond this entity was to stop my race. My rain light has failed. I should explain that following a single seat race-car in the wet is about as hard as levitating in a thick fog while swatting a fly. It’s a set of impossible tasks played out at the speed of light. Driving without a rain light removes the pursuing driver’s only contact with reality.

I was not permitted to leave ‘Parc Ferme’. But this experience is condensed into five hundred words which means I must cut to the part where, thanks to a hire car, I was allowed to take my place on the circuit. The car slithers up the pitlane and I take my place; sixth on the grid.

One finds a peaceful place. It’s somewhere mixed up between a thumping heart-rate, the terrifying shriek of twenty F1 cars and the thrill of sitting on the grid. The gantry lights go out; the race is on. The car in front of me stalls. I take to the grass and go around him. I’m in fourth. Nothing to lose. The cars in front spew water into a white wall as thick as a shower curtain. I pull out of the screen and move to the wrong side of the circuit. Entering the first corner I’ve moved up to second. Before the next corner I’m alongside the pole-man. My presence is as surprising to him as it is to me. He looks across, his eyes widen. But the corner is mine. The car slips and slides if it were a horse trying to gallop across an ice-rink.

And here I stay. In first. But today I am faster again. Within five laps I’m lapping the slower cars. Ten more and, bar the man coming second, I have overtaken everyone. I’m just an average man in an extraordinary car. Today is my moment to be a part of a group that have stood on the top step at Le Mans. Sure, it wasn’t an endurance race victory. But it’s the most enduring one I recall.

My mind soars. I am a smug, satisfied, dreamer. I open my visor and rain hits on my face as if each drop were a single note of music. For an instant the universe is mine.

Some cups gather dust. Some are happy memories. But this is the one I sup from whenever life feels tired and worn out.

Max Wakefield

www.chelseaautolegends.com

 


2 Comments

Result! Great style Max.

– Georgie Shaw, September 18 2012 at 22:35

You capture the essence of a race meeting well. Not only an accomplished competitor but a skillful writer. Poetry in (high speed) motion. May your happy memories live with you forever... Mervyn.

– Mervyn Smallwood, August 5 2013 at 12:03

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The Benetton F1The Benetton F1Max on the top step of the podium at Le MansMax on the top step of the podium at Le Mans