Race Report: Florion Heights, Nevada, January 2150
Jann Schlaudecker finally broke his Florion Heights duck after a solid workmanlike performance brought him victory in front of Pascale Rouser’s Auricom at the Florion Heights extended course in Nevada.
The race weekend began under a cloud, following yet another EG-R scandal in the press - this time it was accusations of brain washing of fans due to the popularity of their team personality implants available from their online store. The fact that Xios also offer the same service from their online merchandise outlet seems to be lost on the majority of the gutter press. The horrific accident of Auricom pilot Franco Gonzalez during Friday practice gave the press something else to talk about, however, meaning that the EG-R scandal was all but forgotten come race time on Sunday.
For those who did not see the crash on virtually every news broadcast on Friday evening, it went something like this; Coming off of the final drop at close to 1600 mph, Gonzalez chose to activate a turbo boost pick up he’d gained from the pad on the edge of the jump, "...to see what would happen, and maybe entertain the crowds."
Unfortunately for Franco his Auricom took a bit of a buffeting from turbulence and he began to wander off to the left. Although he applied his right air brake to correct this, it failed to turn the craft enough for him land smoothly onto the pit straight. A solid collision with the wall on his left knocked out the Auricom T-808’s Pulse Thrustmaster VII engine. The ship then rebounded across the track and the loss of anti-gravity field, combined with the speed, resulted in a spectacular barrel roll along the pit straight. Far from entertaining the crowds, Gonzalez had left them shocked and awe struck in a manner other than intended.
As the rescue bots hovered tentatively towards the mangled chassis which had come to rest just past the pit exit, fans and commentators alike feared the worst. It is a testament to the strength of a modern AG chassis that Franco was perfectly ok, if a little shaken, and continued practice with the rest of the F9000 pilots as soon as the track had been cleared.
"yeah - it was a big one. It all seemed to happen in slow motion, you know. At the time I was thinking that it was like Pascale’s (Rouser) crash at the end of last year, you know - I just kept spinning and bouncing" the Spaniard explained after the event, "The ship held up ok for Pascale, so I knew I’d be ok." When asked if he had any second thoughts about racing on Sunday he shrugged and said his "head would probably be sorted by race day." Perhaps Franco should have sought out an EG-R mind implant straight away, to help sort his head, as he was understandably out of sorts in the days that followed.
The rest of the weekend pre-race went without incident on a comparable scale, except for the usual altercation between the impressively fast Natasha Belmondo and Tigron pilot Omarr Khumala. True, Khumala did exit the pit lane and jam on his air brakes for no apparent reason ("I wanted to test them" was his explanation), badly baulking Belmondo on quite clearly her fastest lap of weekend thus far. You do get the feeling that Belmondo plays right into the hands of her foe at Tigron, though, as the anger and frustration probably cost her front spot on the grid.
Come race day it was business as usual. Morning warm up brought drama for no one and the fans streamed into the stands from very early in the day in anticipation of a great race. Truth be told they were hoping for a repeat of Friday’s crash, however the race director had made sure the final pick up pad before the big drop no longer activated a passing ship’s turbo’s.
Thankfully, most of the 16 starters used their heads and, with one exception, the entire field made it off the grid into the left hander unscathed. The unlucky man was Carlos Beneto, who was tipped into a spin by the impetuous Roberto Sergio, as the G-Tech pilot attempted to use his impressive launch control software to full effect. It was of little consolation to Beneto that the Italian had damaged his left hand engine nacelle and would blunt his own challenge for the race.
At the front of the field, Rouser was far enough ahead not to be caught up in the minor melee behind her, leading into and out of the loop and through the free form area too. Paul Cheung, from second on the grid, also held station, but there was a brief skirmish between the Tigron’s at the first meaningful corner, as Khumala stuck his ship firmly up the inside of Sveta Kirovski’s to maintain third spot.
With Belmondo slipping into fifth spot, the opening lap suggested nothing other than a Rouser victory with the Auricom lead pilot gradually easing out a one second advantage over Cheung, but things are never quite as they seem at Florion Heights.
Behind the top five, the pack was already showing signs of thinning out, the earliest elimination accounted for Alex Reece, as engine failure from a well timed Songen Grey missile knocked the EG-R man out of sixth as they dived into the desert section. Reece had scraped his way around the loop after taking evasive action initially to get by the spinning Beneto and then he ended up being sandwiched between Kirovski and the wall as he entered the loop. Hence his shields were at a level where one missile made the difference between tasting champagne and meeting the rescue bots.
Into Reece’s top six place came Songen Grey who, like seventh-placed Franco Gonzalez, had taken full advantage of the Roberto Sergio/Omarr Khumala-inspired mayhem at the start to gain even more places than their usual rocket starts could bring. Sadly, it was not to last for the likeable Spaniard, who began to slip back down the order, being passed first by Myima Tsarong and then by Daniel Johnson. Tsarong’s Piranha team-mate Jann Schlaudecker would be the next to pass Gonzalez, all in the first lap, so maybe Friday’s accident was having some effect after all - there seemed to be little damage to Franco’s Auricom.
Naomi Turner and Zala Wollf traded missiles and grenades before taking each other out. Proving two into one wont go, the dueling ladies tried to out barge each other into the covered left-hand section in the free form area. After quite a spectacular shower of debris and sparks the pair of them ground to a halt as they re-joined the track proper, each pointing the finger at the other in what was simply a good example of a racing incident, F9000 style. Later, though, Naomi would admit that she could not see where Wollf was for the amount of dust thrown up in the area. I suspect, given time to calm down, Wollf will agree with her.
By the time all that had happened, Songen Grey was off to the races and hunting down the leaders, having picked up a succession of turbo activation’s he screamed around the far side of the course and was looking very good for a podium finish. However, bad luck and a Tigron would have more to say about that within a lap.
Surrendering the lead, Rouser ducked into the pits at the end of the first lap, the German had been caught by a trio of grenades as she left the final drop and then a missile as she approached the pits. Still, better to get hit before the pits than as you fly by them. Rejoining the race in fourth in front of Kirovski, who had been taken during the jump by Belmondo after a scuffle, Rouser had Kirovski closing in from behind before she got up to speed from her stop.
The agressive Tigron barging tactics had already taken their toll on Kirovski’s ship and she would live to rue her decision to bypass the pits at the end of lap one. Mid way round the loop she would be eliminated by a rearward missile courtesy of Rouser, accompanied by a roar of delight from the crowd. Being easy on the eyes seems to make Pascale a lot more popular with the fans than her Russian victim.
"I was finding her a little too close for comfort - It was making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. With a Tigron behind you it’s only a matter of time before you feel the bone jarring impact as they try and ram you out of position. I was looking at the rear monitor the whole time, too, and she picked up a weapon from the other pad, so it was either her or me who got it. I just acted first." Rouser said by way of justifying the missile. Perhaps she had a point.
Meanwhile, Cheung’s inherited lead was short lived as he took a gamble on the covered section through the free form area, only to find a whole load of mines deposited by the very unhappy Carlos Beneto on the previous lap. Thus ended a disappointing weekend for EG-R, however, as usual with the team they declined the opportunity to comment on events.
Also falling victim of mines was Khumala, who swerved to avoid a grav stinger only to collect several of the explosive devices. The Tigron lead pilot had to limp carefully round the rest of the lap with his warning klaxon blaring away. It was maybe good karma seeing a usually swaggering Tigron treading so daintily round the course. His drop in speed allowed both Belmondo and Rouser to rocket past, however, both were destined for the pits at the end of the lap. Rouser after an altercation with the walls while watching Kirovski in her rear view monitor and Belmondo after her own first lap barging match with the Russian.
Up until this point, Jann Schlaudecker had only passed Gonzalez - his path ahead mainly being cleared by the misfortunes of others. Gaining a turbo just before the free form area, Jann used it to pass team mate Myima Tsarong on the way up the incline, then picked up another turbo from the pad before the air jump.
Daniel Johnson, who had traded places with Tsarong half way through the lap after slipping in front and dropping a grav stinger, was next in line. Schlaudecker used the turbo he’d saved and screamed past Johnson’s Feisar at speed along the fast sweeping, high altitude section of the course before the final jump. The momentum he had gained to this point gave cause for concern, as it was at similar velocity at which Franco Gonzalez had eaten track two days before.
"Oh yeah, like all the other things that are racing through your mind, Franco’s (Gonzalez) accident did blink in there. But you get so little time to think that it’s not until later you realize you should maybe have been more scared. To be honest I was more worried about Daniel (Johnson) taking a shot at me as I had decided to pass the pit lane at that point. I knew he would be pitting as his Feisar was smoking after he clashed with Myima (Tsarong), so I thought that if I hit the speed pads past the pit lane and then he had to stop, I would be clear of him." Schlaudecker commented.
As it turned out, Jann’s plan went as he’d hoped, picking up a shield activation from the pad before the first corner he had the presence of mind to use it as he took the sweeping left hander. Not that it was needed, since Johnson had clipped a boulder on his way through the free form section and was more concerned with nursing his ship to the pits before Myima Tsarong caught up for some revenge.
The race order as they headed into lap three was Natasha Belmondo, Pascale Rouser, Omarr Khumala, Songen Grey, Jann Schlaudecker, Daniel Johnson, Myima Tsarong, and Franco Gonzalez, closely followed by Nami Mishima and Roberto Sergio in their own private battle, then the disgruntled Carlos Beneto.
Unless Saturday’s incident involving Natasha Belmondo went unnoticed by the F9000 race committee, Omarr Khumala is in for a heavy fine, as it was in similar circumstances which he all but ended Songen Grey’s race at the start of the final lap. Leaving the pit lane, Khumala jammed on his air brakes in the same manner as in the previous altercation. However this time the victim of his "brake testing" was the unfortunate Songen Grey who had chosen to slipstream the Tigron into the loop.
The resulting shunt left the Van Uber missing most of its front end and Grey a very unhappy man.
"That man is a freakin’ maniac, dude! In a way I am glad to be retiring at the end of this season as it’s idiots like Khumala who are ruining the rep’ of this sport. At least it’s not my final race here, man, we have the reverse version of this course in six weeks time and I’m looking forward to waving goodbye to the fans in style." Grey lamented when it was all over.
Songen made it to the finish line with some skillful piloting of his stricken craft, which is more than can be said for the reckless Khumala, whose bad Karma came back to haunt him once more. The blistering Jann Schlaudecker, coming off the fastest lap of the race from his consecutive turbo’s, closed in and took out Tigron’s bad boy with a plasma bolt on the way out of the loop.
"I was doing him a favour!" Schlaudecker said with a wink, "He was going to get hurt the way he was racing!"
Once free of that incident, the German picked up the pace in an effort to reel in Rouser and Belmondo. Time was running out, however, and, despite nicking tenths back here and there, there was insufficient margin for him to catch the pair of speeding females. That was until he picked up a quake activation at the drop into the desert.
When Schlaudecker unleashed the weapon Belmondo and Rouser were racing along beside each other and the force of it sent their ships crashing together at the air-jump and off of the track.
"I thought I would send the quake backwards, as I didn’t think I was close enough to the leaders for it to affect them." He pondered, "I knew that it would take out Songen if I did, but I didn’t need the extra point and he didn’t deserve to be eliminated after what Khumala had done. I would have settled for third, as I’ve never gone great here, but after the quake stopped the leaders I went by quite easily."
In fact, Jann’s Piranha slipped by almost unnoticed as the Xios and Auricom ships were collected by the rescue bots and placed back on track. However, having failed to win here before, Schlaudecker was not convinced even then that victory was his. Through the high altitude section he hit every speed pad from there to the finish line. In that respect he could not be faulted for bravery.
"When someone has a big accident at high speed, it puts a little doubt in all of our minds. That’s what I was doing by taking all the speed pads; I was erasing the doubt." Schlaudecker summed up.
Once Rouser and Belmondo had sorted themselves out they put the hammer down in an effort to catch Schlaudecker. This made for some fantastically close racing between them, as the pilots forgot all about weapons and took turns at slip streaming each other all the way to the line. In the end, Rouser took second from Belmondo by virtue of her holding the right side and collecting the final speed pads, leaving Belmondo to trail her across the line.
Natasha seemed content with third, anyway, as were the rest of the Xios team due to Zala Wollf’s elimination on the first lap. Xios have all the ingredients of a great team, however, they have recently lagged behind Piranha and Auricom. If they can get both ships to the finish line it does seem that they would be in for a great result.
Asked if she was disappointed not to take the win, Pascale said; "You are joking? Not at all - Jann has been on the brink of winning here so many times. It’s not as if I was robbed by him at the finish line or something. Anyone who thinks they’ve won an F9000 race when there’s half a lap to go is deluding themselves!"
Whatever problem had ailed her team mate Gonzalez it led to him wandering in a distant last. Franco admitted later that he just wanted to get the weekend over with safely.
"I live to race another day. That is what’s important." were his only comments.
In the closing stages, Myima Tsarong managed to get her Piranha past the Feisar of Daniel Johnson, who had collided with the right hand wall at the end of the free form section after taking the curve a shade too tightly.
"That bloody free form area cost me a podium place!" Johnson said, although his performance on the rest of the track suggested that expecting a podium place for himself was rather optimistic. He added; "First it was a rock or something and then later I couldn’t see for all the dust and I clipped the wall on the way out of it. I’m not convinced about these new free form areas at all - racing should be done on a track!"
Regardless of whether he agreed with the new F9000 track layouts, his mistake brought Mishima and Sergio into play for the Brit towards the end of the race. Eventually clever evasive technique and a rearward deployment of grenades allowed the Feisar lead to bring his craft safely home in a solid 6th place, while Nami Mishima left Roberto Sergio in her wake off of the final jump.
Grabbing a cautious two hand fulls of air brake as he approached the final drop, Gonzalez completed a miserable weekend by allowing Beneto to glide past as they dropped down to the final straight. To be fair he received as big a cheer from an appreciative crowd as they’d given the winner. Hopefully Franco will be back to his best before the next race meeting.
All in all it was yet another spectacular race at the Florion Heights AG racing complex, with some great overtaking in the loop and some good action elsewhere. With the winner taking his first ever victory at the venue it concluded a good weekend for the Piranha, Auricom and Van Uber teams, as well as a race to forget for EG-R and Tigron. The latter team might still live to regret the tactics employed by their lead pilot Omarr Khumala, as it was confirmed after the race that there would be a stewards investigation into his "brake testing" antics both during qualifying and during the race.
Final race standings
- Jann schlaudecker - piranha
- Pascale Rouser - Auricom
- Natasha Belmondo - Xios
- Songen Grey - Van Uber
- Myima Tsarong - Piranha
- Daniel Johnson - Feisar
- Nami Mishima - Van Uber
- Roberto Sergio - G-Tech
- Carlos Beneto - Feisar
- Franco Gonzalez - Auricom
- Omarr Khumala - Tigron - eliminated
- Paul Cheung - EG-R - eliminated
- Sveta Kirovski - Tigron - eliminated
- Naomi Turner - G-Tech - eliminated
- Zala Wollf - Xios - eliminated
- Alex Reece - EG-R - eliminated