On May 27 I competed in my first international car race and, more importantly, I finished third.
The Turkish announcer was yakking away in Turkish but suddenly through all the words I heard my name; Gidi Cronin. In Turkish it sounds very much like my name in Hebrew. To the cheers of a crowd of thousands and my fellow Israeli racing team I step up on to the podium. For a few seconds I feel very inadequate, standing straight waiting for the attention to go elsewhere, and then I realize that I have fulfilled my dream.
I feel my arms uncontrollably thrown up in the air and I let out a cry of joy to the skies. I have taken a huge step in life. Against all fears and odds (especially money related odds...) I went for my dream without hesitation and the results were right in front of me.
The racetrack is in Izmir, Turkey. My first acquaintance with the track was at a racing course through Maslulim (advanced driving school- www.maslulim.co.il)
When I applied for the course the racing driver idea was a distant dream. I set my goals in the course and aimed for my lap times to be within half a second of the track record. In the final session on the second day I knocked off three tenths of a second and set a new track record. From that moment on I knew that car racing was going to become an integral part of my life.
Most car races take place over a whole weekend so on Friday we arrived at the track to start our practice sessions. As we got off the bus there was a Honda S2000 racing round the track, after a few minutes a couple of track bred Opel Corsas joined the Japanese beast. Watching these race cars screeching their tires round the corners and revving beyond 7000 r.p.m. we forgot our own race and stood there drooling as the cars sped by. However, we quickly reminded ourselves that in just a few minutes we too would be on the track behind the wheel of our own racing car.
That weekend, apart from the Fiat Sienna cup in which I was competing, there were other cups as well, a Honda Type R cup, a Mitsubishi Evolution cup and two open categories. This meant that we were in for a tight scheduled weekend with cars on the track all day.
Our cars were standing at the end of the pit lane and because it was the first race we each had to pick out the car that would be ours for the season. After picking my favorite color I adjusted my seat, set my safety belts to the right length and lined up at the pit exit. The two 20 minute practices started with the track dry and a slight drizzle outside, not enough to change to wet tires but enough to make the ride a lot more challenging. In these semi wet conditions braking was an important issue, at every corner I pushed back my braking point and at every corner I drove a bit more on the limit. Towards the end of the last session I was feeling over-confident and sure enough in the last corner of the track my braking point was too late. The rear of my car slid out and I found myself hurtling towards the grass on the outskirts of the track. Making a quick assessment of the situation, dropping a gear, steering into the slide and with full gas, I found myself in a long slide managing to gain control of the car. What fun! I entered the pits with a huge smile all over my face and soon saw that I was not alone, every one had that same silly smirk. After months of talking, planning and dreaming we were finally on the racetrack with the smell of rubber, the sound of the engines and the split seconds of over-steer braking late into the corners. A fantastic motor sport adventure, a feeling we will never forget.
The second day arrives and with it the pressure builds. Saturday is qualifying day, the session that determines at which position on the grid everyone starts. In the morning we go on for a warm up session and then, after Re'em Samuel (our team coach, rally driver and director of Maslulim Advanced Driving School) gives us some last tips and we storm on to the track. Everyone tries to find a clear piece of the tarmac to try and do their fastest lap time. I do seven laps but feel something is wrong so I come back into the pits to have a word with Re'em. He gives me some advice and a glass of water and sends me back out. This time I feel a lot better, and later I find out that I held 2nd position until the last lap when another driver set a time 3 hundredths of a second faster than me pushing me down to third on the grid.
The Israeli team has done well with Adam Frank qualifying in second position on the grid ahead of me. In the evening we all go out to have a bite to eat. We discuss tactics for the race the next day and run different scenarios for the start. As each driver goes to his room in the hotel in Izmir my mind is working overtime. I imagine the race the next day, imagine crashing, imagine missing a gear at the start, imagine winning….
Breakfast in the hotel is an experience in itself; all the drivers are already dressed in their fireproof driving suits to save time later on.
At 09:15 we are already on the track for the last warm-up before the race. The race itself is at 13:30 so I spend the waiting time listening to my Ipod and running to the bathroom every five minutes.
Ten minutes before the race starts I'm sitting in the car, tightening my belts and waiting at pit exit to go out on to grid. The green flag comes out and we make our way to our designated positions on the grid. However the race does not start yet. First we have to do two warm up laps. The danger at the beginning of the race is that the rear wheels are not warm enough and it is important to use the warm up laps to get some heat and grip in to the rear tyres. Full gas in third then release with a sudden turn of the wheel, lets the rear of the car slide out and give a great show for the fans as well. And so after two warm up laps we finally line up on the grid.
My whole life I have watched motor sport and there is nothing more exciting than the start, five red lights come on slowly one after the other and when they go out – the race is on! The huge noise around demands you to be fully focused at feeling the car, the engine and the wheels spinning beneath you. My start goes well. I start closing the gap to second and start planning where I will overtake him into the first corner, but my lack of concentration makes me miss a gear, changing into third and at the exit of the first corner I am still in third position.
Over the first few laps the two drivers in front of me open up a convincing gap. The first three positions seem to be already decided. Behind me I can see titanic battles between 4th 5th and 6th positions; every corner sees someone else ahead.
In all the scenarios I had always imagined a race full of drama, myself overtaking others and them overtaking me. I never pictured a scenario where I was alone on the track. Alone on the track in third my mind started wandering - Big Mistake. Five laps to the chequered flag I come up behind a back marker (a driver who had a gear problem was a whole lap down), a misjudgement on my part meant that I waste three seconds overtaking him and with three laps to go I see in my rear view mirrors Ilya Oshrov (another of the Israeli racers) closing down on me, fast. In the last two laps Ilya does everything he can to overtake me. Once from the left then from the right. I valiantly manage to fend off attack after attack and manage to come home only half a second in front of him.
The chequered flag is waved and I breathe with relief. On the way back to the pits I think about how important the mental side of racing is as well as the technical and physical side. It doesn't matter how fast you are in practice, if you aren’t concentrating 100% of the time on the race you may lose. I was lucky to finish 3rd and then I realize that if I had been more driven and focused I may have been able to challenge a higher position. I know where I have to improve for the next race and know that I will never again settle for a comfortable third but that I will give it my most every second of the race.
In the pits chaos is about, everyone is still pumped up with adrenalin, no one is listening to anyone but everyone is talking at the same time. How they started, whom they overtook in which lap, who knocked whom off the track and so on. Everyone is ecstatic about their position and is already planning excitedly what they will do next race.
After ten minutes of hugs and exchanging stories I manage to step away from the fuss. I take a look at the stands where the Turks are leaning over to get a glimpse of the podium. I look back at the racetrack. I remember that since I was nine years old I have dreamt of car racing and realize that while I have closed one circle I have opened up a new one. I'm sure that in the future I will take part in many more races and will win quite a few. However, I will always remember May 27, the day I fulfilled my dream of being a racing driver and making it my way of life.