Authors: Simon Wood
Table of Contents
DID NOT FINISH *
HOT SEAT *
* available from Severn House
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First world edition published 2012
in Great Britain and the USA by
CrÃ¨me de la Crime, an imprint of
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright Â© 2012 by Simon Wood.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Wood, Simon, 1968-
1. Automobile racingâFiction. 2. Suspense fiction.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-274-0 (Epub)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78029-023-2 (cased)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
My thanks go to Mike Whelan, Edward Stores, Jenni Oglesby, Jack McGowan, Ryan Green, Jim McLeod, Robert O'Neal, Roy Carroll and Carrie Gordon Watson who answered my âcasting call' and donated their names to this book. Enjoy your roles, people.
The European Saloon Car Championship is a fictional racing series, although it does share its roots in a number of championships past and present.
If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough
was backstage listening to my new boss, Richard âRags' Ragsdale, and new teammate, Kurt Haulk, being interviewed. Public speaking wasn't my forte, but in a couple of minutes, I'd be joining them.
âRagged Racing has been the “It” team for several seasons,' George Easter said. He'd been the voice of motorsport since before I was born. âDo you expect that to continue?'
âAll indicators say yes,' Rags said. âThe cars are performing well and I have great confidence in my drivers.'
Rags wasn't wrong. Haulk was fast becoming a saloon-car legend. He was two-time Dutch Touring Car Champion, British Saloon Car Champion, and the current European Saloon Car Champion.
I'd graduated from Formula Ford to the European Saloon Car Championship. The ESCC pitted the likes of the Honda Accord, Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Ford Mondeo against each other. With the engines limited to two litres and power to 300bhp, it kept the racing tight.
Claudia Bernard appeared next to me. Her grin helped alleviate my nerves. She was the media liaison for the ESCC. She was French and typically so, with a self-assuredness that only the French seemed to possess. She was pale, thin and wore her hair in an asymmetric pageboy cut that would have failed on ninety-nine per cent of women.
She leaned in close and whispered in my ear. âWhen you 'ear your name called, you go on.'
Claudia's English was impeccable, but she suffered from that French trait of not saying her h's. I found it comforting that she wasn't entirely perfect.
âDon't be nervous. You'll do great. I 'ave faith in you.'
âThat makes one of us.'
Her grin shone in the backstage gloom.
Today was my great unveiling at the
magazine Racecar Show and Exhibition. Held every year at Earls Court, the show drew everyone who had anything to do with motorsport, from the fans all the way to the auto giants. Exhibits surrounded the centre stage where interviews played out across the exhibition hall and, in two minutes, I'd be on stage addressing these people.
George Easter's voice filtered backstage. âSpeaking of driving talent, I'm very excited to bring a fantastic up-and-coming driver and the new addition to Ragged Racing to the stage.'
Claudia beamed. I wanted to throw up. I hadn't adapted to the publicity side of my sport yet.
magazine's Young Driver of the Year and the son of the late, great Rob Westlake, Aidy Westlake.'
Ah, there it was, that familiar qualifier attached to my name â the son of the late, great Rob Westlake. My dad had climbed the ranks to Formula One, but had died in a car crash with my mum before he ever took part in a grand prix. Since then, my dad had taken on a mystical quality in the racing community. His name came up every time I met someone for the first time. It didn't rankle me. I loved and admired my father, but it would be nice to be introduced as just me for once.
Claudia held back the blackout curtain and I walked on to the stage. Bright lights hit me in the face and the silhouettes of over a hundred people looked back at me. My inability to see the faces of the audience helped keep my nerves at bay.
All three men stood up as I walked by the Honda Accord I'd be racing next month. I shook their hands and sat down in the remaining chair.
âCongratulations on becoming
magazine's Young Driver of the Year,' Easter said.
I'd won the drive courtesy of a driver shootout
. Pit Lane
had invited six young drivers who'd impressed them last season to take part in a two-day audition. My against-the-odds third place finish in the Formula Ford Festival and World Cup last October had won me the gold ticket invitation. The driver with the best across-the-board scores received a one-year contract with Ragged Racing, ten grand from
and a one-year lease on a Honda Accord courtesy of Honda.
âYou knocked off some pretty impressive talent to win the drive.'
I had. I'd beaten the cream of Britain's young talent.
âWhat does it feel like knowing you'll be driving for the top team in the ESCC?' Easter asked.
âA dream come true. It's going to be great driving for the defending champions.'
Ragged Racing had risen to prominence in the last five years and blown away the competition to take the ESCC drivers' and manufacturers' title three years in a row. Last season, they'd dethroned Townsend Motorsport as the official factory-backed team for Honda.
âRags, what made you decide on Aidy?' Easter asked.
âIt wasn't my sole decision. I took input from Kurt as well as my engineers.'
âAnd the stopwatch?' Easter said and got a laugh.
âYes, we're all slaves to lap times. But we know that a good driver is more than just being quick. Aidy not only put up some fast times, he worked well with the pit crew. I tested the contenders' mechanical prowess. The team manufactured a mechanical or electrical fault for each driver so we could see what they brought back to the crew. Aidy nailed the fault. That's the kind of driver I need during the heat of the race. That incisive feedback could be the difference between a result and a DNF.'
âIt looks as if your grandfather taught you well, Aidy,' Easter said.
My grandfather, Steve, had worked the Formula One pit for Lotus during the sixties and seventies and now ran a classic-sports-car restoration business when he wasn't helping me. He was well known for his uncanny ability to read a car. âHe's a good teacher,' I said.
âWhat I liked was his adaptability,' Haulk said. âAidy was coming off his first full season in Formula Ford and we put him in a saloon car. He responded well to the instruction I gave him.'
âSo, Kurt, is he the complete package â brains and skill?'
âI hope not, or my title is in trouble.'
I struggled with this lovefest and blushed. OK, I knew there was a certain amount of grandstanding going on to make the team look good for the public, but wow, Kurt Haulk was complimenting the shit out of me.
âBut seriously.' Haulk stretched out an arm and patted me on the back. âI think Aidy has a lot of potential. This year will be a massive learning curve for him, but I won't be surprised to see him at the front of the pack.'
âI bloody hope so,' Rags said. âI can't afford for him not to do well.'
Rags wasn't wrong. The budget for my car alone was a quarter of a million. For the first time in my short racing career, there was expectation and all the pressure that came with it. Rags was taking a big chance with me, just out of my rookie year. I was replacing saloon- and sports-car legend, Tim Reid, who was out of contract and moving on. Over the last twenty-five years, he'd won the 24-hours of Le Mans, the World Touring Car championship, and just about everything else you could win in saloon and sports cars. I hoped I was up for the task.
âWith all this praise flying around, what have you got to say for yourself, Aidy?'
âIt's all deserved.'
Now, I got a laugh out of the crowd.
âI love a confident man,' Rags said.
âBut are you overconfident?' Easter added.
âI don't think so. I'm very excited by the opportunity and the faith in me shown by Rags and the team. I'm going to do my best to win.'
âAfter me, you can be first,' Haulk said.
âNot if I can help it,' I fired back with a smile.
A collective âOh' rose from the crowd.
âIt looks as if you're going to have your hands full with these guys.'
âI like to think they're going to have their hands full with me,' Rags said.
The interview was going really well and actual enjoyment seeped into me. I looked over to the side of the stage where Steve and my best friend, Dylan, stood. Dylan flashed me a thumbs-up and Steve beamed at me. They couldn't be more proud.
âWhat would your dad say if he were here today?' Easter asked me.
âHe'd want to know why the bloody hell I was driving tin tops and not sticking to single seaters.'
Dad was a purist. His interest began and ended with formula cars. Me, I was more like my racing hero, Jim Clark. He was a double Formula One champion, but he'd driven everything â sports cars, saloon cars, Nascar, and even rally cars. While my dream was to reach Formula One, I'd drive anything.