So, you want to be a race car driver: dis lekker by die see

2020, the year I’d decided to get into proper circuit racing really started with a bang. Literally, as I crashed in my first ever race, decimating the right rear corner of my car but figuratively too as Covid-19 lockdown hit us all, meaning no more racing.

My battered car sat in its parking spot for a number of months as a dark reminder of my rude awakening but at least I wasn’t under pressure to patch it back together. So once lockdown regulations started to ease I had everything sorted out and the car looked as good as new. Well, mostly anyway.

With the original race calendar in tatters it seemed all of our ‘away’ races (ie outside of Gauteng and nearby surrounds) were off the cards. However the moment inter provincial travel opened up a small group of Class L racers decided we’d make our way down to Dezzi Raceway on the KZN south coast for an unofficial (non championship) event.So we set off on Thursday morning for a leisurely drive to Shelley Beach. 

The VW Amarok Canyon that was kindly loaned to me for the weekend tugged the race car along without hassle. It’s quite nice having 580Nm from its 3.0 V6 turbo diesel at hand to make light of pretty much any towing situation. Fairly frugal too as the round trip was managed at 10.4l/100km. Its bright orange paintwork, bespoke to the Canyon version, really stands out in a parking lot full of tow cars and matches the stitching on the rather comfy seats.

Friday morning we were up bright and early to get to our practice session, due to run from 8 until 12. Before every session we do a nut and bolt check, imperative as it’s amazing how bits and pieces manage to rattle themselves loose. With that done we fired up and headed out on track.

Having never driven around Dezzi I took the first lap incredibly easy. YouTube is a great learning tool, one I used extensively to try to get to grips with the track layout but cameras just don’t convey elevation changes properly. Dezzi Raceway is like being on a rollercoaster, only one where the speed is controlled by your right foot.

Lap two and I started to pick up the pace, increasing the revs more and more as I got comfortable with which direction the next corner was going to turn. Then suddenly, hesitation from the engine. “Oh dear”, I thought, “What has gone wrong now?”

I was told that we may need to fiddle with the car’s engine management system to adjust for lower altitude so we set to work, fiddling, doing a lap and fiddling some more. Unfortunately it didn’t get any better but my understanding of the track sure did. It’s a marvelous circuit, one that suits our Lotus 7 replicas right down to the ground. Tight, technical, rewarding the brave rather than the powerful. 

Saturday morning was an equally early start for a busy day of qualifying and four race heats in two categories. The first being a sports car and classic car field of around 24 cars, the other being a time trial that rewards lap time consistency. 

Heading out onto circuit for qualifying knowing you have a spluttering engine is a frustrating thing indeed. Needless to say I was somewhat dejected when I finished the session fourth of the four Lotus’s. I noticed that I wasn’t that far off the pace, though, and was in front of all the classic cars at least which would hopefully keep me within striking distance during the race itself. 

That idea didn’t last long as I was trounced off the line with my spluttering engine, a Ford Anglia and a Ford Mustang swarming either side of me down the pit straight. Fortunately the Anglia was swiftly dispatched on lap one and I soon found myself glued to the rear bumper of a squirming brute boasting some 300kW versus my 65kW. Every bit of straight tarmac saw the Mustang disappear into the distance, while every braking zone and corner meant I reeled him back to within touching distance. It was a great tussle.

Next up was the time challenge, which as I mentioned is a consistency based event rather than an out and out race. Well, that’s the idea anyways but some on track traffic meant three Lotus’s ended up side by side going over the start finish line and we battled until the chequered flag. 

Clouds rolled in over the KZN South Coast which dropped ambient temperatures nicely. In fact it almost threatened to rain which would have added a good dose of spice. Race 2 saw my nemesis the Mustang jump all the Lotus’s off the line, which held them up nicely so that I could play too, so much so that I managed to pressure one of them into a mistake on the last lap giving me third position.

The last run of the day, the second of the time challenge heats, was far more spread out giving me time to work on my lap times. I shaved a second off to end the weekend under a second off the lap record for our class. Pretty chuffed considering the engine troubles. 

A braai was soon lit and tales recanted from the day. My first away race weekend had not been without its troubles but at least the car was still in one piece. And I’d learnt a great deal about my ability to drive around a problem with the car. No doubt a valuable lesson for the future. Best of all, however, was the adventure with a great group of people and the welcoming KZN racers.

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