“Are you waiting for Mark?” asks Brendon. “He’s flown away already.”
Trees look like black lace on the smoky sky, sun has sat already, the grandstands are empty. The teams dissemble their equipment. Dunlop and Michelin have packed before the end of the race, the trucks start moving, and in a matter of minutes you almost get lost.
“I hope you had a good weekend,” says Brendon with a tired smile and heads towards their hospitality.
Did we have a good weekend? “Mega!” as Mark said, giving me a high five after the race.
I do some things for the weirdest of reasons, and in all honesty my main motivation to go to Nürburgring was to keep a promise, I made in Le Mans. I have this thing about promises, I always keep them, no matter how ridiculous they are. So the #2 flag was designed, printed, shipped through half of Europe and put on a pole.
It is quite a weird feeling to realise that you probably seem like the craziest person around, but for me races live are about this distinct feeling of unreality, about letting go, about pure uncensored emotions. This is what motorsport is about for me. It was my fifth WEC race live, and somehow it doesn’t get old, quite the opposite in fact. Every time it’s a shot of such a positive energy, that you just want to come up with something to say “thank you”.
It is quite nice to be able to exchange “good mornings” with the drivers, to be able to congratulate them in person. The promise was definitely worth keeping: Neel seemed quite happy. “Now we’re equal,” he said smiling and taking a picture with his phone. Romain and Marc seemed pleased, too.
I finally gave that plush Kiwi bird to Brendon, he was very kind to give me a second to dig him out of my bag. It goes well with his necklace with the outline of New Zealand, too. We both wondered which animal to get Timo. When a couple of minutes later all three of the #1 drivers head to the garage, Timo suggests it should be a German Shepherd. Which, when you think about it, is quite logical, but after two years of thinking I needed the man himself to spell it out. Well, I guess that’s the plan for the next season.
Mark says something like “cool, that you got the flag back” when he sees me and Deborah on Friday morning, and makes sure we are happy with the picture Deb trusted me to take. Yes, my hands still shake when I have to master the challenge of taking a picture of Mark with my friends.
The FP2 turns into a horror, when #2 flies into the wall. It happens as if in slow motion, and the only thing you care about is that Romain is fine. Obviously disappointed, he takes the gloves off, but keeps his helmet, when he climbs on the scooter, but it doesn’t matter, because he is alright. The front part of the floor is hanging off the car, and it looks like a long evening for the mechanics. Not a good day for the #2.
It’s nice to see the drivers arrive at the paddock the next morning, get one or another smile or a wave, and really wonder, why are we doing this. It is the standard WEC signing session, not as messy as Spa, though, even the fact, that Rich tells us which side is the queue is already a tradition.
It is quite surreal when Brendon scrolls through the gallery on his phone to show me the picture of the kiwi in his helmet. Well, when I was getting a fluffy toy for a grown man, I definitely didn’t expect it to put that big a smile on his face. It’s nice to congratulate Brendon and Mark on the engagement and marriage respectively, too. (Okay, that sounds wrong J)
The starting grid is the usual show of too many people around, VIPs and big bosses surrounding the cars, and Marc sitting on the guard rail on the other side of the track, alone, before he is asked for an interview. The national anthem at the beginning of the race is one of my favourite moments in WEC, when the crowd leaves the grid and there are just the cars the drivers and race engineers left. The start is a beauty with Timo overtaking the Audi.
The high downforce aero definitely seems to be working better in the dry, and the top four run in close formation. Porsche do an awesome job on the stops jumping the Audis, but then it all seems to go wrong with the slow puncture on the #1. To be honest in that point in time I thought it all was lost. And somehow I felt ridiculously guilty, as if it was me, who brought them bad luck, judging by the sample of three races in a row. With the #2 losing 10 seconds after the spin, it was not looking very good.
But then the destiny decides, she owes at least some luck to Porsche. Pitting under FCY took care of the extra stop and lost time, and when the cars were running 2-1, I was praying to all the Gods to keep it that way. But it wasn’t meant to be.
The contact with GTE, the drive through cost #2 a victory, but you can always trust Neel Jani and André Lotterer to put on a show. Bloody hell this was crazy. Absolute beauty. The best of motorsport. And it’s weird to realise, that it’s smiley, chatty incredibly cheerful Neel, driving this beast. It was a shame he had to pit to repair the bodywork.
Last year, I had an honour to witness the first win of the #17 for Porsche, seeing them win again at the track that Timo and Mark love so much, and that loves them back, was incredible. Great honour. I missed #2 on the podium, it would be so lovely. But considering the fact, that everything that could go wrong for them did go wrong, fourth is good points for the championships.
Standing behind the garages after the race, congratulating the mechanics, the team, is incredible, really. Just watching things, you never see on TV, soaking in that great mood. It’s funny when they hurry to clear away the beer bottles when you take a picture of the constructor’s trophy. It’s incredible to see Dr. Wolfgang Porsche and Fritz Enzinger hug. It’s awesome to get the high fives from Mark, Timo and Brendon.
We stay for quite some time after the race, just watching the teams pack. Did you know that the support structure of the storage tents is made of columns which are filled with water? The drivers pass by from time to time, and it’s just all smiles. Neel stops to share the summary of the race from his perspective. He’s tired, but still smiling.
Timo rushes between the debrief trucks and garage and back again, and says “exactly as you’ve written, “radiating happiness”, and it takes a couple of seconds for the penny to drop, that the only place I’ve written it was the blog post about Le Mans. Wow! Just wow! Timo Bernhard not only read it, he remembered it, and he knew who has written it. Wow.
So, Timo, if for some inexplicable reason you are reading this one… Thank you! I can’t thank you and your teammates often enough for bringing such pure emotions into my life. I’ll miss you.
As I will miss Deborah, Dina, Mari and Ramona. I will miss the symphony of the engine sounds, the smell of the rubber. I will miss the family atmosphere of a WEC race live. I’ll miss it, but I’ll be back next year.