I said I'd get it out by the end of the week, didn't I?
Chapter 38: Back in Action
6:00 PM, March. Round 1 of 13: The KSC. The KSC.
“And welcome, everyone, to the first race of the 2038 K1 Season! My name’s Jim Kerman, and I’m delighted to bring you this race alongside my good friend, Jeremy Kerman. Jer,’ glad to see the old suit still fits.”
“Wh-… Wait a compliment?”
“Nothing, just kind of threw me off there. Anyways, this is the KSC Circuit. Formerly home to the world’s first space agency, the KSC has been repurposed into one of the most well-known and multi-layout circuits in the world. Topping in at just over 2 kilometers, this circuit is the shortest on the K1 calendar. But don’t let that size fool you; this course has history. Jebediah and Max Kerman- the two OTech Teammates- getting their first championships here at this track. This circuit, though updated, has had its fair share of events over the past.”
“And speaking of the track changes, you’ll notice the starting grid has moved. This will facilitate a longer run down to Turn 1, and hopefully generate more action.”
“Don’t forget the cars, Jim. These new 2038 cars have plenty to talk about- but we’d never get to the actual race. So, sit back, relax, and get yourself ready! It’s time for the KSC Grand Prix.”
The three jets blasted overhead, white smoke trailing as they broke off. The brand-new cars shone in the lights and looked just as beautiful as I had hoped. The car was low to the ground, looking sleek and sharp with the singular front wing and wedge nose. The rear wings were lower, thinner, and provided less grip than years past. In short, they were awesome. See, the ability to generate grip (downforce) is kind of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows us to take corners faster, giving us faster lap times. However, all this air has to go somewhere. The “Dirty Air” effect was incredibly pronounced from previous seasons, where basically cars couldn’t catch the air if they were too close behind. The reason? Essentially, the car in front was using up all the clean air. It’s complicated and way above my pay grade, so I’ll let you just look it up in your free-time.
The cars weren’t the only new thing from the season. The schedule got a massive shakeup, with 2 more tracks added onto the calendar. The Carthian Grand Prix would break up the Kafrican Power Trio in the early part of the season, splitting Tekkia and Solaria. We’d not gotten any sim data in on it yet, but the track looked incredible- a fast, wide first sector followed by an old city nestled on the mountainside in the second. The old city has brick for the surface, and tons of elevation changes. Max and I were both ready to get into the car and get on this new track.
The NMC race was gone, with the city circuit being moved to Baskay Island, and one of the most packed metropolises in Baskay. Using a combination of bridges, underpasses, and city streets, the track had three crossovers on the track. Also, the Aquarian Grand Prix had been pushed back, throwing the race under the glitz and glamor of night racing under the lights. Another new race, the Feguan Grand Prix, would take place in the coastal nation of Fegeland. It would take the 11th round of the season, another exciting chance to drive. The track had four massive straights, two long corners, and a fast octagon-shaped loop in the final sector. The final part of the newly-revamped calendar came in the form of the newest circuit in the world: The Hermian Grand Prix.
A brand-new circuit in a young nation, the Hermian Grand Prix Circuit is a racers dream. Multiple layouts, sweeping corners, more stadium sections than I could count on one hand, and a 1.1-mile long back straight made the circuit nothing but exciting. And, in a nation almost as rich as Owlia in terms of racing culture, the fan turnout was spectacular in every single series- Go Karts to the inaugural International Endurance Championship race for the 2037-2038 season a few weeks back. Overall, the new circuits looked amazing, and I couldn’t wait to get the season started.
The KSC Circuit had gotten a re-do, with the main blueprint of the circuit staying the same. However, the start/finish line had flipped ends of the track, now on the old back straight next to the massive rocket tower. The old podium space had been turned into the main pit lane, with the old pit lane being the podium.
I stepped out to the car, adjusting my hat and moving my headphones to block out the noise. Everyone was expecting big things out of me this season, and I could feel a lot of pressure. In K1, once you become a champion, everyone expects you to do it again. If you do that in your first season, they expect even more. When you go through a drought, that pressure grows. Everyone ignores the fact I had a good chance to win ’36 if I wasn’t hurt and that Max was amazing last year; if your’e not on the top step, people start to wonder. Can he do it again? Was he just a one-hit-wonder? Is he just a bust? The questions never stop. Some of them, of course, are deserved. I had led the entire championship up to the very last race, basically throwing the season away. However, some were just stupid. He’s not won the last three races; is it time to fire him? Seriously these journalists need to just chill out.
Cameras flashed as I passed, looking at the cars along the grid as I walked by. One car caught my eye- the white, blue, and gold vehicle of the new kids on the block: Carthian Motorsports. Arcazon’s car, number 77, looked like they were basing it off our design, but the body seemed a bit more basic. The car was expected to go somewhere into the midfield for most of the season, but I was hoping that they would be able to get a bit higher. I went farther up, seeing the rainbow of cars. Phantom and Monster had gotten closer to us over the offseason, but both Max and I had the gap over them for now.
I set my stuff down in the bag next to the car, sitting down in the car at Pole. I was lined up next to the right-side wall, which would be the inside for Velocidad. However, because there was a tiny left-hand kink before the corner, that was technically Turn 1; allowing me the inside for the real corner. It’s a beautiful way to game the system, I know. I got myself strapped in and slipped the helmet on, raising the visor to keep cool. The radio crackled and I heard Landin’s voice over the speakers.
“Test test, 1-2-3. 3-2-1, test test. Everything good?” I nodded and put my thumbs up as Landin rolled her eyes. “Can you please let me know if you got it?” I extended my arm further forward, thumb still up. “Listen, I can do this all day if you want.” I laughed and leaned back in the cockpit, keying the mic.
“Yeah, I’ve got ya. What’s the weather looking like?” Landin turned to look at her laptop as the tire warmers went on.
“All good. Not that cold, no wind, perfectly clear. Beautiful weather when the sun comes down, mid-60’s and dry.” I nodded and rocked in my seat a little bit, looking at the clock above the light pylon.
“Gosh, I’m ready to get going.” The clock ticked down, and the car finally got set down to the ground. The engine rumbled at low RPM, just waiting to get unleashed. The lights went out, and I finally launched away. I kept the throttle steady and the wheels bit in easy, shifting me back in my seat with the immediate torque. Max was right with me, launching off with an equal push before we rolled into Turn 1. The cars suspension flexed through the corner but we kept off the curbs, keeping the car safe before the race. The sunset was tinting the sky to the right as we came out of Velocidad, and the lights were already on in the dark areas where the shadows had covered the track. The lights had already come on at the hangar, and I could see the posters out of the corner of my eye.
“Car feels great in the corners. I’ve got a ton more acceleration than before.” I dove into Turn 3 and kept off the curbing, letting the momentum carry me up the track before cutting into Turn 4. The black shaded visor kept the sun out of my eyes, and I turned into the next corner. Shadows flashed past as I continued on, watching the multi-apex Turn 6. I could barely see the skid marks from the last race, but I shook it out of my head as I rolled into the 7-8 chicane. The track had plenty of rubber in it from the other racing series as well as the practices, and I felt confident in the second part of the lap. I decided to start backing the field up out of the R&D canyon, watching the pack behind. We lined up, and I felt my heart ramp up. A flag waved in the back of the field and I shifted in my seat.
One light came on above. I started revving up, feeling the power in the car.
A second light came on. I shifted up to Rich revs and held in the clutch.
Three. The field was roaring- the engines echoing off the walls and buildings around.
Four. I stared at the lights through the tinted visor, training my eyes on them like a hawk.
Five. My heart was racing as I watched the pylon- ready to start.
The lights went out and I immediately released the clutch- flying off of the grid spot as the revs dropped. I managed to get a good run down into Turn 1, and Max cut down into my tire tracks entering the corner. The field all managed to make it through the first couple of corners smoothly, and I held Max behind out of Velocidad. I threw the car up to the far outside down the straight, trying to keep Max at bay. We flew into Turn 3 and shifted up the track, cutting down for 4. The sun glittered off the corner of my mirror as I dove into Turn 5. The outside wheels lost a bit of grip and I let off the gas just a bit; flowing up to the outside of the turn. I threw the car into the double-apex and held the right side tires on the inside white line. Max was hanging onto my tail, not affected by the dirty air behind. He held on all the way into the tunnel, even attempting a dive up the inside. I saw his lunge but he backed out; popping back into line and behind me.
We raced through the R&D section and underneath the bridge; the fans cheered and clapped as we passed. Max almost locked up into old Turn 7 (Current Turn 16), but managed to keep the car together before we flew into the hairpin. I pulled out of the corner and got a great run, but I saw smoke from behind. My wheel flashed yellow but I stayed focused, diving into Turn 18 and braking hard for 19. The wheel briefly showed green before changing to yellow again- black lines bordering the screen.
“Safety Car, Safety Car. Go ahead and slow up, engine to Low.” I lifted out of the corner, saving a bit of gas as the yellow lights started flashing around the track.
“What happened there?” Max followed me through Tempesta as we both stayed off the curbing, avoiding any unnecessary tire wear. The Safety Car was waiting out of Turn 2, and I sped up a bit to catch up.
“One of the Archers locked up and hit Lewis. Lewis collected one of the CM cars, and another car got collected on the outside.” I held my line before flowing into Turn 1, some stars peeking out over the horizon. The Safety Car appeared on the exit of Turn 2, and I slowed up to avoid slamming into the back of the silver vehicle. “We’ll be keeping Plan A, Plan A. I’ll let you know if we change.” I chuckled into my radio and started weaving.
“Yeah, I’d appreciate it if you told me when we change the plans,” I responded.
A few laps later, the Safety Car shot away and we flew down to the straight. Max kept hot on my heels for a bit, but started to fall away after a couple laps. I threw the car through the next few laps, trying to extend the gap. The rears were really suffering, but I was determined to hang on.
“How much do I have left until the pit window’s open?” I was starting to ease off, trying to conserve my car in the tight corners. There was a bit of a break as I flew out of Turn 14 out of the Tunnel.
“If we’re still on Plan A, we’ll be boxing in about B plus 5. We can box next lap if you want Plan B.” I fought understeer under braking, trying to get the car forced into the corner. The rears were handling the wear okay, but the fronts were suffering.
“I’m really having some issues with the understeer. I think B plus 1 could work, but let me know if I have to go A.” The A strategy was a simple one-stop on Lap 15, but the B was a two-stop; one on Lap 10 and another around 20. I flew into Turn 19, rumbling over the curbs. “I could try and manage the tires if you want.” I was all alone on the track, with Max about 5 seconds back.
“You’re currently good on the Pit Stop Split time, you’ll be close to Micheal but we think you’ll stay at least Top 3.” I whipped over the chicane and came up the track, trying to keep the tires from wearing too much.
“My tires are getting pretty worn, I can hang on for a bit longer. Probably can’t make it to the One-Stop.” I crossed the line to start Lap 11 and moved down the track to get a good line.
“Copy. Plan B plus one, Plan B plus one.” I flew through Turn 1 and felt the car straining against the G-forces. I kept racing through the lap, trying to go as hard as possible for the in-lap. I dove into Turn 20 and went straight-on, flinging my car around the complicated pit entry and into the pit lane.
The team was waiting for me as I rolled into the stall, and they quickly lifted up the car. The old tires came off quickly and new ones came on before I was dropped- peeling away from the stall as fast as possible. I grinned and removed a visor tear-off, keying the radio.
“Dang, that was fast! Great job there everyone, amazing stop.” I whipped through the exit chicane for the pits and crossed the line; storming out and slamming up through the gears. I flew through the new pit exit and back onto the track; right behind Louie. As I started speeding up, I saw yellow lights glow on the steering wheel screen. I sighed and slowed down before black borders went around the numbers; flashing boldly against the light background. I sighed and shook my head, punching the sidewall of the cockpit.
“Oh and a crash! Crash in the Tempesta Chicane, and that’ll be the Safety Car!”
“Yeah, looks like Arcazon, in the CM car, and his first career start has gone from bad to worse after that first lap collision in Turn 17. Let’s see what happened there.”
Arcazon’s left rear sagged entering Turn 20, throwing him sideways into the barrier outside the corner.
“Looks like a suspension failure on the left rear, and unfortunate end to the day for the rookie out of Thomasville, Carthia. A tough week all around for the team, but ready to fight next race in Tekkia."
“Oh you’re kidding me,” I sighed as I slowed up; weaving behind Louie. “If that isn’t the worst freaking timing…” I groaned and went into Turn 3, keeping close to the delta.
“Yeah, that sucks,” Landin agreed with a sigh. “We’ll be restarting around P3; Max and Micheal are basically going to get a free pit stop right here… Just gotta bear down and get to work. Long race ahead here.”
Both Max and Micheal rejoined ahead of me, but Louie was well behind after taking his stop. The race got restarted, and I shot away from the final corner behind Micheal. I weaved and faked a move outside before shooting inside- forcing a hole through into Turn 1. The crowd cheered as I flew past. Sparks went up into the air from the rear as I went into Turn 2, chasing down Max out of the turn. I gave Max a gap heading into Turn 3, trying to reduce the understeer for the corner. I chased him into 5 but locked up. I ran up to the outside of the corner over the rumble strip, barely going up near the wall. Dust came up off the tires on the outside before I came down, and I managed to get it back down into Turn 6. The comms were silent as I chased down Max, but I was always just that little bit off his pace.
I dove into Turn 9 and barely made the turn- rumbling over the exit strip and throwing up dirt and grass. I shot through the tunnel hot on his heels and found a hole up the inside in 14, but the line turned to the outside in 15. I cursed under my helmet and tried to find a hole into the hairpin as Max locked up a small bit. I nosed up the inside and forced a hole on corner exit, clearing Max through the canyon. Sparks flew off the tail as I shot down through Turn 18 and down into 19. I threw the car into the corner and over the curbs, but got a twitch of oversteer on the exit. The rears whipped loose and I barely hung on through the corner- Max closing in on my tail. Max got a stellar run out of Tempesta and used it to sling past me down the straight to cheers from the crowd. I followed him down into Turn 1 as we started Lap 17.
“We’re still on B, right?” I faked a move down into Turn 3 but Max didn’t take the bait.
“Affirm, still on B. B-2, Plus 3. B-2, Plus 3.” I stormed down into Turn 5 before locking up the brakes some more- missing the apex and giving Max even more room on me.
“Might want to make it Plus 2,” I replied before turning into 6 and balancing on the white inside line. I feathered the throttle and nosed inside of Max. I nailed the turn and managed to force my way inside of Max through the 7-8 chicane, and he was forced to let me by. I bounced over the curbs and the front wing sparked over the concrete on the rebound- the car rocked by the trip over the concrete.
Max was right on top of me down the run to Turn 10, but I covered him off before he could make a move into the tight corner.
“And an incredible fight here between the two teammates! Shooting down into Turn 11, trying to get a lead here at the start of the championship!”
I blasted into Turn 12 and got a tiny bit of oversteer before I cut down to the inside to cover off Max. Dust came up off the wheels before I came back up the track and rolled over the curbing, keeping him behind me. I tried to make the car as wide as possible and fought hard as Max tried to get past me. He locked up into Turn 17 and hit my left sidepod- jumping into the air with smoke popping off the tire. I had to run wide as Max got alongside me, but I had the inside through Turn 18 and got past.
Max was right on top of me for the next few laps, until I finally dove into the pit lane for the second stop. The team was on the money as I pulled into the stall- getting up and serviced so fast the crew looked like a blur out of the corner of my eye. I peeled out of the stall and went down the complicated entry road before rejoining in clean air. The tires were still a bit cold but I leaned hard on them- trying to catch up to Max down the road. My out lap was crisp but I fishtailed off the final corner; losing a couple tenths as rubber got put down onto the track. I flung the car into Turn 1 and whipped around 2, but my stomach dropped as I saw Max blast out of the Pit Lane. I was right on his tail as he exited the pits, and I sliced inside; managing to sneak by through Turn 3. Sparks flew out from behind as I flung the car over the curbs and out of Turn 4, throwing dust up off the right-rear. Max was hot on my heels down into Turn 5, but the aero wake meant he had to give way just a little bit.
“8 to go here, 8 to go. Just hang in here for a little while longer.” The tires buzzed over the apex curbing for Turn 6 and I shot through Turns 7 and 8 over the raised curbs. Max was still struggling to warm up the tires and allowed me to extend a small gap through the R&D Section.
“And we’re right back to where we were before- Max Kerman chasing down Jeb through the tight R&D turns. It’s been an astounding race so far, and this battle for the lead is definitely spicing up the action so far.”
“It definitely is, Jer’, but I feel like Max just might have the upper hand in this one. He’s had an amazing car so far in the high-speed first sector, and seems to catch up on Jeb through there. We’ll have to see what happens here with 7 laps to go as they cross the stripe.”
The engine howled at max volume as I held on for dear life through Turns 3 and 4. I was feeling the pressure as Max closed into Turn 5- before backing off again. We whipped through the laps in a back-and-forth duel as the laps kept ticking down. I flew down into Tempesta and shot over the curbs with Max hot on my tail- just 2 laps to go as I crossed the line.
Max faked a move inside but cut back up, trying to hang outside through the high-speed Turn 1. I got some oversteer out of the corner and Max closed hard out of the corner and caught me in Turn 2. I went defensive out of Turn 2, but Max went farther down- forcing himself down near the wall and making me need to give room. He flew past inside and I had to slot in, racing down into Turn 5 with a touch of understeer. I raced over the Turn 6 apex and almost forced my way inside before letting Max go over the chicane. I immediately was back on the attack in 9, and whipped down low to try and make a pass down past the flag. I managed to get alongside down the straight and swept past Max through Turn 10.
Max twitched with oversteer out of the corner but was right on me quickly. We flew into Turn 17 with Max hot on my tail but I kept cool- ignoring the dark blue car looming large in my mirrors. We crossed the finish line with Max trying to sneak past the outside with myself down low. I flew down into Turn 1 on the defensive and managed to hold onto the lead through the opening corners. Max tried the same move out of Turn 2 but I dove farther down and made the defense work. Max then shot around to the outside but overshot the corner- running over the grass and allowing me to slice through out of Turn 4. The crowd roared as we passed them in the fight for the win.
The engine was in maximum mode, with Max obviously doing the same. The rear end lost some grip through Turn 9 and Max took advantage- shooting down to the inside to get past into Turn 10. He overshot again and I dove for the gap, but didn’t time it good and hit Max up the rear. Max fish-tailed and I had to slow down to keep from wrecking him out, but I was immediately back on the attack. Max went defensive and I swept around the outside in Turn 13. I drew alongside out of Turn 13 and got past in 14- flying down through 15 and 16 before shooting into the hairpin. The lights shot past as I tried to keep Max back in Turn 17 and we both flew into Turn 18.
As I hit the brakes, the tire locked up and I shot forward into the turn. Max dove down inside and managed to get past as I tried to hold onto him. My left front was alongside him as we dove into Tempesta. The tires bumped through the chicane but we both kept steady, and Max swept past.
“Aaaahahaha dangit!” We both crossed the line to a roar from the crowd and fireworks blasting into the air, lighting up the sky and flashing across the track. “Heck of a race, good job with the pit stops there guys. Sorry I couldn’t close it there at the end..”
“And a thrilling finish there at the end! The OTech Teammates battling it out for the final laps, and Max comes out on top!
“Yes, an outstanding race from both of them, and a great start to the 2038 season. Now, will it continue? We’ll have to see. But a wonderful start to this season so far.”
“That was crazy,” I grinned as I gave Max a high-five in the podium circle area. “I thought I had you there out of the chicane, but then I lost the rears at 9.”
“Did you hit me,” Max asked as we went to the cool-down lounge, looking back at me.
“Yeah,” I responded before sitting down on the couch. “You went off on the exit of 10 so I tried to shoot the gap. I went down but as soon as I closed you went back on and I hit the rear.” Max laughed and sat down.
“Yeah, I felt the hit and I thought ‘Aaah what the heck was that?!’ While I’m sawing the wheel every way to hang onto it.” I chuckled and took a drink from my water bottle.
“I hope we can keep this up all year,” I smiled, looking at the replays on the TV. “Wouldn’t that be something?”