Words are not enough to describe what happened this December 4th. I had closed my eyes to my future as a driver before, but now it seems that I was completely wrong. I always prayed for a small chance and I had abandoned that idea some months ago. How foolish I was indeed, I had forgotten that fate has as its signature the word ¨Unpredictable¨. This was the chance to prove to myself that it was not over for me.
Since I rode on San Carlos racetrack for the first time, I felt in love with it. A perfect venue for the Easykart Pan-American GP; such a big event on my backyard. Sadly in my country a war takes place among the different Karting Organizations, but the most notorious is between Easykart and Rotax (The one I come from). But instead of being harsh they opened the doors for me, of course many comments and speculations can come abroad. But they gave me a chance, that's what really matters at the end and is something that I will be always grateful for. And I was there because of my boss too, who sponsored me with the engine (A completely new and different for me by the way) and I forgot how many times I thanked him for that hehehe.
Taking some days out from my job I went there and it was a rush since the beginning. The engines were delayed because of the port customs officers (Pigs), and not only delayed they arrived with missing parts. I thought it was over, I had to find a water pump and a radiator from anywhere, fix them on the car and run the engine gently to let it get used to being pushed to limits. Help was on the way in the form of a chain of favors. Even if my mentor and mechanic was busy as hell on another driver who had hired him, he walked along all the paddock and called many people taking back old favors from the past and we gathered all the pieces except the water pump. I was crumbling; this chance was draining away with two days still remaining. Then a friend I had met the day before appeared from nowhere, the current National Formula 2000 champion had brought me the so needed part. And there I was, assembling all the new systems on the kart by my own with the advices of my mentor and the help of this friend who was going to race against me on the same category. I won't forget his words, ¨... man is just for having a good race and have fun, and with more rivals the better it is...¨
After some more details and repairing a leak the water pump had, it was finally finished and purring. It was time to run the engine gently, but because the racetrack was occupied with the other categories I had to use the main racetrack that was meant for cars. On this circuit the kart racetrack is just beside the main racetrack and all I had to do was revving it from 8000 to 11000 rpm repeatedly for two 15 min sessions, but at 12´min the engine just stopped. I thought I had blown the engine or something like that, and of course having present on my mind that the engine was not mine. But it was the spark plug that gave up and left me stranded at the half of the racetrack, so I had to push the kart all the way back to the pits. But another driver that was going to the pits on his daily ride saw me and helped me pushing the kart back to the pits. Problems continued one spark plug after another; it was a wrong setting on the carburetor being settled too rich which was causing the spark plugs to drown and burn down. I consulted many people and I even had unwanted help that took away another spark plug. I was bursting in rage and frustration, just about to give the engine back and go home.
Then my mentor appeared again, told me to calm down and find a solution. Not to mention that between some anger and laughs he reminded me that I was running without gas too on the last try. After some cigarettes, spark plugs, attempts and the help of a workmate of my mentor, we hit the right setup. The night had fell over the place, then on the main straight of the main racetrack it was time to finish the engine running time. With the help of the Formula Champion I made several runs, and he patiently adjusted and waited me at each run. Finally the running process was over; it was time to adjust it to give its best. Not too lean, not rich on the high and low carburetor needles and then it was time to go a little bit faster. 12000, 13000 and then the final run to the max. The rev limiter light flashing all the way on the straight, all the way up to 15000 rpm in the night. She was finally finished; the tingling sensation on my hands because of such a powerful engine was something I had never felt before. On a kart 32 hp is quite a lot, this was the real deal. And this Formula friend had come from that old karting school not to mention that he was younger than me. All the things I learned led me to the conclussion that where I came from drivers have things a little bit too easy in technical terms, but if you wanna go a level up you must run on this kind stuff.
Sunday and because many of the drivers on the same category had the same kind of problems as me our qualifying sessions was moved from Saturday to race day, so we had to hurry and qualify on the morning before the whole bunch of another categories. Then my parents arrived, this kind of things were not so common on my racing career. My mother didn`t like the loud sound of the engines and my dad was always busy on weekends. But I had asked them this time to come for real; all I wanted was their support and their presence at such big event. They not only made the 3 hour trip to the racetrack with one of my younger brothers and my cousin too, but also helped me buying each one of them a set of new tires. Setting everything up problems struck again, the water pump was leaking again. But then something I never expected happened. My father took the tools all told me to get myself ready; he said that he and everybody will take care of the Kart and help. And with their help, the advices of my mentor and the Champ; my father my mother and everyone in there managed to get the kart ready just in time for the qualifying session. When I was going to grab my helmet and go there my father told something that encouraged me even more: ¨Whatever you do son, even if it's first or last is a success. Never forget that¨. It was the first time I was going to drive it for real and it was hell faster than what I was used drive before, not to mention the white MG compound tires that were sticking more than what I was used to. It was another level, definitely. Because I was testing it on the qualifying sessions I just managed the last place. But we were in, that was all that mattered.
After this testing run, one of the two water pump belts snapped out. We had to find another one in time. And thankfully another fellow driver had it and gave it me for free just to help. My father and my cousin had the wrenches and did the job superbly, it was fit to race again. Then talking with mom I told her that this was something I never expected and she said: ¨You asked us to come here and give you support, and this is ¨support¨ son. We are not here only to see you drive, we are here supporting you for real. Doing everything we can just to help you¨. A picture that I will always keep on my mind is everybody around the kart laughing and joking just before the race, specially my father and my mentor joking to each other.
Race time, going from last place I walked the grid wishing the best of luck to all the drivers and especially to my friend who helped me patiently with the carburetor setup. Hoping to have a great duel between us, knowing that this time I will face a real pro driver and I would give my best and become a real challenger. Every one fired up, the race was on. After three attempts on the rolling start the lights went off, pure speed and the engine screaming all the way up to the dangerous first two corners. Right up and left down, hard crashes had happened there in the weekend but thankfully we all went clear around there. On the first chicane one of the guys in front of me spun out going to the grass, but coming back totally sideways to the tarmac afterwards. Each time closer to the imminent crash I pulled the car fast enough to the right to avoid him and resumed the chase. Then on the first hairpin I saw how my friend was taken out by another driver, who cut his line and closed the door heavily hitting him on the side and bending the steering bars. Watching my friend going to the grass I continued, and then I began my charge that would last the entire 12 laps on this first heat. One by one patiently I kept pushing and went for every single gap to pass the other drivers, braking the less I could, coasting the fastest I could and going through the curves as round as I could. Losing speed was out of context and then I found the large blank space to push it to limit, going all out and on the straights hitting the 16000 rpm. The laps were running down but three laps before the end I managed to catch up with the leaders, first and second were fighting their own battle with me at the back. I had them on my sight, then on the next turn the leader fell back trying to adjust the high carb needle and the second driver went through. But both of them were slow as we were approaching to the hairpin were my friend was taken out, so I saw my chance to take the lead and went to the inner line. Three wide side by side.
Then the fallen leader went inside trying to recover his lost place, but he hadn't noted I was on the inside as we were just at the entrance of the hairpin. Hard on the brakes, preventing the car from spinning and nudging them. Then he turned around and saw me, all of this in a matter of milliseconds. I swear I saw his wide open eyes of surprise through his visor. The three of us reached the turn braking heavily, trying not to hit each other as the tires were squealing. I even went onto the inner grass to not to hit them and then in the apex these guys hit each other taking more of the insufficient room I already had. I blocked my wheels and counter steered heavily but I finished up nudging them as well with the side of the car. But after the struggle I kept going while the other two were paying a visit to my friend on the grass. I exhaled with relief, plunged the throttle back to its natural place on the floor and came out of the corner at full speed. Just one lap remaining and all I thought was: ¨Just bring it home; just go as in any practice session¨. I enjoyed the last turns, and not pushing hard because there still was a second heat of 20 laps on this tortuous circuit. Main straight and all I was waiting was the checkered one, but the dweebs on the finish line were checking blackberry's messages maybe instead of supervising the race. So I went around another lap. The stewards had flagged down as the winner one guy that was behind me that had the same chassis as me, but even he pointed them that he was not the winner. The winner was way ahead he said with signs. And then finally it was down for me; the first heat was over. What a race.
I just raised my right hand and close my fist in sign of victory, but not too much. Having already one on the bag I knew there was still one to go. ¨Just keep going like that¨ is what I thought. I arrived on the weight scale soaked in sweat but with a big smile as I hugged my brother and my cousin who were helping me moving the kart around. 165.15 kg said the scale, just 0.15 kg over the minimum limit and with gas still on the tank. Just in top form.
As we were getting out of there, the other two drives who I almost collide with were arguing about what had happened out there. And they called me to solve things out; I told them what happened in front of me. One of them got it right and took it nicely as a simple racing affair, but the other one was insisting that was my fault, just because he was taken out by not even me when he just grabbed the lead. Racing is a tough sport, and maybe this chump believed he had the ¨Vodafone¨ logo somewhere in his bucket-o-nuts if you know what I mean. But well things went just smoothly after that, and my baby was just perfect. Nothing to fix, just gas to add on. And we waited and even watched the other races as time went by.
Well race mode went on again as we were preparing for the second heat, just some minor checks. Once more I walked all along the grid wishing the best of lucks to my rivals, but ¨Mr. Vodafone¨ didn't find this quite pleasant as he said: ¨OK, but run don't over me this time¨. ¨But man it wasn't my fault¨ was all I said, but this gentleman kept on preaching me. I had to comply just to make his mouth shut for once and for all and I went just to sit on my kart to wait for the green. This was not a reason to put fire in my eyes, but what would really fire me all up were some words that the team chief and owner said to me. When he was in front of the car and I thanked him for all the help he kindly had provided all along the event. He just said: ¨ You wanna give me the best gift? ... Go out there and win that shit! ¨. As we all started our engines, I had an incredible feeling. That attitude one's has when goes for the victory with right; it was like I had a sign on my bumper that would say: Move bitch, you're in my way. One warming up lap and green, green, green. A perfect start.
Because of the points earned in qualify and first heat I started 4th on the grid, with my Formula friend just behind me. I wanted to fight that pending battle against him, but I also wanted to bring the checkered home. So going to the first corner full speed, I took over the third place by braking in the inner line as late as I could. Just about to clip the apex and then plunge down the throttle again. I kept on and started tailgating the second place all the first lap; this guy was a really veteran driver. So passing him was not going to be that easy, but a lap later he left a spot on the second turn and I outbraked him almost without thinking. Coasted heavily to not to lose any speed and sprint out to put myself ahead. 2 down, next target: Mr. Vodafone himself.
The guy had built up a 2 second lead, so I had all that clear space to deal with. And then it just like in F1: Push, push, push! Closer and closer I got until three laps later I had him locked on, with the finger on the trigger. But this time I took my time and studied him turn by turn, just planning where to attack. But this guy was driving a freightliner; no way he was going to drop his place after such ¨injustice¨ he had suffered before. So he shut the door every time, even on some places I had to brake a little more to not to nudge him. But I noted something on the last corner before the main straight, he always lifted up the throttle while I just lifted to let the gas running at almost 80%. Got'cha chump, on the next lap I made my move.
I took the corner as round as I could and accelerated a little earlier, using the most of the corner on the exit. In the early straight I used the saved speed, power and the draft. Half way and I broke right, it was all or nothing. Side by side at the entrance of the corner, with half of my car ahead at almost 140 km/h. He had two choices: Let me go through or a first class trip to the grass. We both braked heavily and late, but this time he was done. I went by cleanly as the rules say. This time I ¨ran over him¨... literally. With clear sight I had to do my getaway, but the guy was still there and even on the controversial hairpin he wanted first place back. He made his move trying by outside to force me to let him some room, but I kept my way. And his strategy backfired as he went long and lost time, now it was go, go, go. I started to build a really healthy lead, and two laps later I was almost three seconds ahead. I thought to keep a consistent and fast pace, but saving myself and the tires at the same time. There were still 12 laps to go when I thought the unthinkable: ¨ All right don't screw it up, nothing can go wrong now¨.
On the next lap the exhaust's sound changed to a deep and scratchy sound. ¨No, no, no man. What's going on? ¨ was all I thought. As we say here in my country: ¨If you pray to the saint...¨ , and this time the saint appeared for sure. The sound was getting worse and worse by each turn, and I started to feel the loss on power. But I kept on pushing, I had to finish. I even remember trying to find with mi right hand anything loose or figure out what was the problem on the exhaust, but with no avail. And then a lap later on the first chicane the sound became louder and deeper , just like a huge frog croaking all the time in the back of my head. Just some meters ahead after the chicane the black/red circled flag was shown. It was over. The engine felt just like the half of its power had been drained out to somewhere in limbo. I rose up my right hand and slowly went on my way back to the pits for good, trying to not to damage the engine any more. I could even hear the official Birel narrator, announcing in Italian my retirement.
The leader was out!
Arriving to the place, Fangio's wise words were the only thing in my mind. ¨To finish first, first you have to finish¨. He has been always right with that. But instead of getting mad and frustrated in a childish way like I had done before in any other occasions like this, I did the right thing this time. I took it nicely like a real sportsman should always do; next time baby, there will be a next time. When I got down and turned around to see the damage, I couldn't believe my eyes. The whole exhaust was missing, even the attachment piece that fixes it onto the engine wasn't there. The bolts had come off completely and the remaining one was cut in half too. Like always in motorsports, a failure nobody had expected just happens. Probably caused by a half done assembly job. It was something nobody would have stood for, it was none of us fault.
As I took off my gloves and my helmet, my cousin and my brother came abroad with the trolley. While I was explaining them what had happened, they just took a look and both simultaneously put that ¨WTF¨ face. So no further explanations were needed. And they went on their way with the kart to the paddock, while I stood there at the track and waited until the race was over. I had to retrieve my exhaust back at the chicane. But as an irony of fate, the race was shortened within six laps. Because rain was approaching and the prime category was still to come. So they had to hurry up everything and at the end, my second heat lasted only six laps after my retirement as well. If the engine could had lasted only six laps more, just six laps.
After the race was over and I made some jogging to take my exhaust back (which had a dent and scratches), guess who I found first at the pit's exit? Yup, Mr. Vodafone. Who this time had finished 8th after sort kind of problem. And when our paths crossed, he spoke to me. This time it was another story. ¨This time you didn't want to run over me, this time you wanted to kill me for real. When your exhaust came off, it almost hit me on the head¨ he said with some laughs at the end. There can be kinds of kinds of people on this sport I thought, and probably my kart was taking revenge for what he had said before...
... Maybe... Who knows??
On my way to the pits, the first one to appear was my father. He had that kind of sad face and started to apologize because of the exhaust's failure. And I told him: ¨Dad, that's something none of us would have ever noted. It's nobody's fault. In racing things like this always happen. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and races are like that. Just don't worry, we know we had it and this is more than all I would have expected¨. We walked back and on the place my mother just came by and congratulated me. It was a victory without the trophy and thinking of it, this setback was sweetest that I've ever had. Just knowing I gave my best out there. It's true that I lost, but I wasn't defeated!
Raindrops started to fall over us and a thunderstorm came at its best seconds after. The prime category's race had to be stopped half way, and tires had to be changed to a wet weather ones. A half an hour later the race continued with a restart; all the drivers were gulped by their water spray. It would have been really cool that our race could have been done with a wet track. I really like wet weather races; I can say they are pretty fun for me to do. At the end it turned out to be an incredible race. Many fellow drivers I knew raced in there; and one of them was Giancarlo ¨El Gato¨ Serenelli (The Cat). Who is nothing more and nothing less the three times Champion of the LATAM Formula Series. I just met him during the event, and turned out to be a really simple and friendly guy. He finished second coming from the back on the wet, what a driving class he gave to all of us. Two more laps and would have been the Pan American Easy kart champion as well, and he is on his mid 30's. I remember the day before when I chatted with him a bit, talking about his next move on motorsports. And there's one thing he told me that I will have on my mind for now on: ¨You're still young, just keep working hard and somehow you will achieve it. There some things that rely on the age, but there are many more that don't. Age is not a limit being honest¨. And I used to think it was over; the universe always gives advices but it depends on you taking them or not. I'll take them with no doubt now.
The night made its appearance and we were wrapping up everything. Then my parents had to leave, it was a long way home. If there could be more words I would have used them to thank them for sure for all the help. I couldn't be happier. Not to mention that my father having lived all of this, he thought twice and decided to buy me the new engine for me by his own. Which he is still paying by now but is practically sold at this time. And of course I have to forget about future gifts as well in some time he, he, he. But I don't mind at all, absolutely not at all.
Everything inside the car and my baby on its roof. We all thanked everybody in the team and started or way to my mechanic's house, where I was staying. He drove all the way back. And after leaving the place finally I gave a quick last glance to the circuit, realizing the ton of things I learned on those four days.
I learned that you can't overcome difficulties if you close your mind. That there is always a solution (Something that I forget many times). That friends can appear from anywhere and will help you if they can in many ways. That to be a true champion you can not only go fast, but also be a real sportsman as well. That you can go anywhere you want, but you gotta believe in yourself more than anything else. That there is always something new to learn. And the most important lesson, opportunities come around the corner just once and if you lose faith on your dream, your dream will simply vanish.
I may be 25 by now, but even at this age I learn things that 12 years old kid would learn at that time. I admit it, and every single time I step on that track I get something to be thankful for. Every single time my mentor preaches me it is for good, and shows me how long the way to the top is. But with a new lesson you just become stronger and better and the way can be cleared quicker each time. To be the best you got to let life teach you, and comprehend its teachings as well.
I have to thank my mentor (Carlos Perez) for his patience and advices, to Alejandro Loiaconno (The Formula friend) for his advices and unconditional help, to Mr. Gustavo Romero (The team chief) for his help and all of the RRT crew that gave me a hand. And especially to my parents, my brother and my cousin that helped me in a way I would have never expected.
The path to become pro may be hard, but not impossible. And it may be karting, but this is all I've got. Someday I'll make the big step and taste the real deal. Not killing myself trying of course, but most of all not losing faith on what you dream the most.
Thanks to everyone!