Given Robert Kubica’s most recent recovery setback, I was reminded back to 2010 as he was entering his prime and I was progressing through a recovery of my own…

Bobby K strapping me in

I am munching on a crepe only just cooked by Australian TV chef Gabrielle Gaté, overlooking dozens of flawless Renaults lined up in Sandown Raceway’s dummy grid area…

Yes, I should explain. Managing to infiltrate a Renault drive day at Sandown – organized to coincide with the Australian Grand Prix (and the release of the Clio 200 Renaultsport hot hatch) I’ve had a ball perusing Alpines and V6 Clios, whilst sampling great coffee, great food and a Q & A session with Renault Formula1 drivers Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov…

The assorted guest turn away from their meals as Robert and Vitaly make their way onto thesoundstage. The drivers exchange pleasantries with representatives from Renault Australia,answer rem edial questions from Francophiles with good humour and spin positives out of what has been a frustrating opening to the Formula 1 season. As my eye wanders over to another tray of crepes, I hear someone calling my name…

It appears that silly piece of paper I hastily filled-in on arrival to win an improbable lap with one of the drivers has come up trumps!.. People talk about winning the lottery and being agog, but this is ridiculous!

Before I can utter sucre bleu! I’m ushered downstairs onto pit lane and into what appears to be a very non FIA compliant set of overalls and helmet for a 7 yr old.

While I wait for an array of Renault VIP’s to finish their rides with the drivers, I begin to experience a wave of excitement and trepidation; even my Cheshire grin has developed a nervous tick. Don’t get me wrong, this was an amazing opportunity to observe an elite athlete at work but… Well, F1 drivers are supposed to be completely mental right??

Before you could say accident insurance, Kubica and Petrov make their way into the pits. Myself and the other competition winner are called up, and I selfishly maneuver in front to get the best possible chance of nabbing a lap with Kubica. No offence to the Vyborg Rocket, but Robert is the man that most F1 drivers lose sleep over getting into a competitive car…

Success!… I’ve landed Robert! As I exchange pleasantries and get strapped into the immaculate new Clio, I only just remember the broken arm I’ve been carrying for the last few weeks! I decide now might be a good time to bring it up..

“Just so you know Robert, I’ve got a broken arm”

“So you vant me to go zlow?”

“No way!”

“Okay. We go”

Kubica at work 'Dan-de-nong' Rd

No nonsense. With that, Robert lights up the fronts and accelerates out of pit-lane. As we head up the main straight Robert bangs through the gears more as if they’re an inconvenience; a means to an end rather than a driving experience. I suddenly feel a slight awkwardness (akin to not having anything to say at the barbers) and make a lame attempt at conversation…

“So.. What the front-wheel drive like around here?”

“Yeah!.. (laughs) Not bad!”

As I’m left to ponder my urbane question I briefly notice we have just passed the 50 metre brake marker…50 metres???!!!!!!!

What happens next is off the scale… Well in my world at least!

Robert’s first input is like that of a boxer stunning his opponent. A massive jab of the brake causing us to lose adhesion is complimented by a violent turn-in. Loads of oversteer – but there is nothing to suggest there is any imbalance (not that I had time to calculate any x to y distances!). Robert’s corrective movements are hardly reactionary – working the wheel with nothing but definitive inputs. 

 Any advantage of front-wheel drive becomes almost irrelevant as the front picks up grip almost as soon as it loses it;  as Robert’s dials in even more steering angle! Arriving at turns 2 and 3 (more of a chicane than turns), there is more of the same. Robert un-sticks the rear with another aggressive deployment of brake and steering, only to counter the move with an opposite flick; perfectly positioning the car for the exit of turn4 in a gentle arc before we’ve even finished exiting turn 3!

Heading up the back straight Robert accelerates from Second gear… Third gear… Crunch!!..

It appears Robert is human after all!.. Or simply a life attuned to the virtues of paddle-shift may have numbed his sensibilities to the plight of us manual-condemned mortals. My hapless suggestion not to worry as he’s “not paying for any damage” is merely met with a deadpan chortle…

It only now occurs to me we are now approaching turns 6 and 7 at what must be at the car’s maximum speed. Not abnormal from any other race weekend you might say, but what has preceded only sets my mind racing through possible scenarios – some admittedly involving rescue crews…

But Robert never seems to have any intention of tackling the long, fast left-hander at the end of the straight,

instead throwing us sideways with a right-hand flick – no brake – just intuitively correcting the direction with an antipodean adjustment through the downhill chicane; the tyres absorbing the slide and gently kissing the Dandenong Rd curb on exit. The last two corners are more of the same, only to end the lap with a mischievous Ken Block-style entry into pit-lane.

I can’t begin to tell Robert what an unbelievable pleasure it’s been… There are no words… No time. Instead a beaming grin, a “thank you”, and a firm shake of the hand, is all I can muster. He seems to understand. He’s already been through this ritual 20 times today and then there’s the matter of a small child at the window waiting to have the living daylights scared out of him.

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3 responses »

  1. shiiiiiiiiit son, I hate you 😛 Id love to eat some Gate’ crepes…..

  2. […] Link to the original site […]

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