The rain came from nowhere. Even though the forecast had been “cloudy but dry for the next 30 minutes”, Mother Nature had trumped those multi-million dollar gizmos in the outfield and also the banks of computers churning the data over at their headquarters.
Ariel heard the calm, clear voice of his engineer Rob through the deafening din from the engine behind him. “Ariel, we have half a lap. We think the tires should hold but please brake easy. Do you copy? Please brake easy.”
“OK got it” replied Ariel through clenched teeth as his car closely followed Gabriel into the Forza curve at more than 200 miles per hour. When you’re moving, the body tends to want to continue moving in one direction. When you’re moving at 200mph, one hopes to continue moving in one direction. When you try that on a curve, those hopes and tendencies result in an unholy mass, your own weight, being thrown into you with bone-crushing force. Ariel’s neck snapped to one side as all his years of training and endurance battled the urge to just let go and have his head fly off.
The spray from Gabriel’s car was blinding him. As Turn 9 came up, Ariel prayed that his judgment was still sound and tried to pull up right behind Gabriel in an effort to overtake him from the inside. But Gabriel had anticipated that and moved off the racing line, viciously blocking him; an illegal move but there were only 2 miles to go and no one was going to call it when things were this close.
Ariel’s breathing was ragged. The effort of keeping his body in one piece through the pounding forces, and his concentration at peak through the blast of rain cutting into the car was overwhelming him. He was old, far too old for this. His determination had kept him going these last three years. Not to mention a devotion to his sport, which he believed embodied mankind’s eternal pursuit for excellence. A pursuit he respected so much he had ensured his son followed him devoutly into racing. There had been questions at home concerning his sanity. There had been questions in public concerning his health and abilities. Although superbly fit for his age, Ariel knew he was no match for the young blood so wont to overwhelm the sport every year. It seemed every new driver in his team could outrun his predecessor by one more mile in endurance runs. Ariel bridged that chasm of fitness with experience. Wiles. Guiles. It was fifteen years of driving on these tracks, testing, training, meditation, studying telemetry charts with his engineers that helped him see off challengers. But not Gabriel.
Gabriel was different. A young gun like no other, he had exceptional maturity in the car. Ariel believed the secret to success was to melt into the car, become a part of it. And Gabriel was the machine. The wheels were his legs. Gabriel and Ariel had dragged themselves race after race to this final showdown. Two miles to go. Winner takes it all.
One of the circuit’s long straights came up but Ariel couldn’t allow himself the luxury of resting his tired neck, the muscles screaming as loudly as the engine. Two corners to go.
Ariel thought about those corners. Every inch he covered brought him closer to the end. He could choose to take one last risk, challenge Gabriel and walk away with glory and the satisfaction of a last hurrah on his own terms. Of course, if the move didn’t work out he would destroy the race for both of them.
He didn’t lack glory. Those fifteen years had been glittering. Of course there had been embarrassments, incidents, ruffled feathers and lost friends but he was equated with respect in the paddock. How much more could this title bring him?
One more corner before the finish line, a tight hairpin.
At the very moment they both approached the corner, Gabriel’s car skid. It may have been oil, rain, nerves or fate. He careened ever so slightly opening up a gap. Ariel knew what he had to do. He slowed down so imperceptibly a bystander would’ve thought he was being careful not to drive over the patch of tarmac that had caused Gabriel’s car to skid.
The crowd, rendered hoarse and zombie-like by the excitement of the race, held their breaths as they waited for the last moments to play out.
Gabriel couldn’t believe his luck. In a fraction of a second he had recovered and sprinted to the finish line. It could’ve almost been a photo-finish but Gabriel crossed his car first into a phase best decribed as the wildest success of his life. The youngest champion in the history of the sport. Someone who had literally ended an era by defeating Ariel, who would never race again.
As they both slowed down, Ariel saw Gabriel unable to contain his delight as he punched the air and weaved his car wildly. He knew he was crying.
Ariel fought back his tears and took one last lap around the circuit to wave his thanks to the crowd. People broke through the barriers to crowd the track as he went past them for the last time in his career as a racing professional.
As he parked his car below the paddock, he noticed Gabriel was already there. His helmet was off and yes, he was crying. Ariel got out of his car and sat for a few seconds on the chassis. He was dehydrated, tired and felt weak. But strangely, he also felt satisfied. He kissed his car, a gesture of gratitude for its unfailing support and performance. Then he walked over to shake hands with Gabriel. Instead, Gabriel hugged him so hard he thought his tired bones were going to break.
“Why did you do that? You could’ve won!” said Gabriel as they walked to the podium together.
“But I did! I did!” replied Ariel with a smile.
The baton had been passed.
He looked forward to driving home after this. Angela would’ve prepared lemon cake. She always prepared lemon cake for Gabriel after a race.