Can’t quite believe this is the penultimate part already. Time flies. As Ian mentioned in the comments, I am still chasing that second unanimous vote but it was not to be this time.
Here’s a bumper edition to see us into the final part nicely.
“Come on,” Pierre said, pushing Mitch back towards the car. “Do you want to give Mason more reason to consider Diaz?”
“Get back out there. Now.”
Mitch had never seen Pierre with such determination across his face, and he nodded. “Okay, but we’re not going to be any faster.”
A change of tyres and some tweaks on the front wing made little difference, and by the end of the session Mitch was proved right. The car just wasn’t working underneath him like it had in China.
He took his helmet off, jammed it down on the shelf in frustration, and left the garage.
The sun was beating down in the paddock as Mitch slipped in between two transporters. He rounded the cabs, jogged for a few feet, and then leaned against the outside wall of the medical centre. He took a few deep breaths and shut his eyes, allowing the warm air to wash over him.
“Uh oh,” a voice came from beside him. “Busted.”
Mitch opened his eyes to see Bob stubbing out a cigarette, and he raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Bob?”
“I’m meant to have quit,” Bob said. “Been a tough morning.”
“Tell me about it.”
Bob studied Mitch for a moment. “You know, I heard all about the superstition nonsense Mason has been feeding you.”
“Yea, it didn’t work,” Mitch sighed. “Things keep going wrong.”
“That’s because life isn’t about lucky charms and symbolic rituals. Getting ahead in motorsport isn’t about putting the right shoe on before the left, or patting the airbox before you climb in the car. It’s about making sure you’ve got your head in a sensible place, and you do that by surrounding yourself with the right people.”
“I still haven’t forgiven you for abandoning Shuttleworth,” Bob said, “But think about why you did it. You didn’t like the organisation. You didn’t like the structured way we approach things. You went to Mortimer because you suited the people there better. More supportive, maybe. More forgiving. More open. It was about the people, right? Not a lucky rabbit’s foot.”
“Then perhaps it’s time to get your people behind you again.” Bob patted Mitch on the shoulder. “Makes no odds to me if you don’t believe me,” he said. “Watching you self-destruct is no fun, but it gives us a chance at pole.”
“Let’s tell no one about this, eh?” Bob said, and took a few steps away. He lit up another cigarette, turning his back on Mitch.
Mitch caught hold of Melissa’s arm as she scurried into the motorhome, paperwork and folders clutched tightly in her arms. “Hey,” he said.
“I know you’re busy,” he quickly interrupted. “I just want to apologise for being… well, being a freak the last few days.”
Melissa narrowed her eyes. “A freak?”
“Moody, irrational, I know I’ve been a pain.”
“You’re always a pain,” she nudged him, freeing herself from his grasp, and hurrying away. “Doesn’t mean I don’t love ya,” she called over her shoulder.
He watched her go, then made his way back towards the garage. “One down, two to go,” he sighed.
“It’s fine, John,” Pierre shrugged. “Things get tense. But hey, we think we might have figured out some of the problems. Look,” he held out a clipboard with some equations scribbled on it.
Mitch looked at it closely, then laughed. “I have no idea what that says.”
“Basically, the weather is cooling off a bit, the mid-day sun is not so strong anymore, and we’re a few steps forward on the tyre issue.”
“That’s brilliant, and just in time for qualifying too.”
Pierre nodded, and turned back to his laptop. “We’ll be there or thereabouts,” he said.
Mitch took a few steps over to the other side of the garage, where Mason was chatting with Sandro. “Got a sec?” he asked.
Mason finished his conversation with Sandro and turned to Mitch. “What’s up?”
“Plans to replace me already?” Mitch nodded toward the test driver, who was walking away.
“You better believe it, kiddo,” Mason laughed. “Plucky young driver, ready to show the world how it’s done. Remind you of anyone?”
“Mm, I used to be like that, till I had the sense knocked out of me. Thing is,” Mitch continued. “I need to apologise for some of the things I’ve said.”
Mason held a hand up. “You’re not going to cry on me, are you?”
“I wasn’t planning on it, no.”
“Apology accepted anyway. Just in case.”
“What, just like that?”
Mason shrugged. “I wasn’t mad at you, Mitch. Seems to me you were just mad at yourself.” There was an awkward pause and Mason waved a hand. “This is getting far too deep. Go and do whatever it is you do before qualifying.”
Mitch qualified fifth. Considering how the car had been behaving, he was pleased with the position. Mason was on pole, whilst Bruno would start beside him on the front row.
Mitch talked to the gridwalk crew ahead of the race. It was a hot day, and he was concerned about the tyres, but he put that out of his mind to answer a few questions before climbing in the car. Even though he couldn’t see her, Mitch knew that Melissa would be beaming.
The formation lap flashed by, and Mitch found himself staring at the lights, the familiar rush of adrenaline keeping him on edge. Five lights on, and gone, they were off.
The fourth place car went nowhere, and off the line Mitch was already up one position. Into the first corner, Bruno ran wide, allowing a stream of cars past him. By the end of the first lap, Mitch was comfortably third.
“Safety Car,” Pierre informed him. “Sorpasso crashed and left bits of car everywhere. Careful on punctures at 5.”
Mitch slowed his pace. He had been in the zone, lap after lap being swallowed up as he hit each brake marker and followed the racing line perfectly. He’d made no headway on the cars in front, and Bruno had managed to catch him up behind, but Mitch had found it easy to keep him at bay. The Safety Car had snapped him back to reality.
His radio crackled again. “Mason is coming in. We can stack you, or you can stay out. Your call, Mitch.”
Should Mitch come into the pits now?