Big things with little cars
Big things with little cars

“...and still ahead is the number 8 car...”
“...there’s the 17 car in pursuit...”
“...remarkable...he’s cutting down this lead by two seconds a lap...”
“...a little bit shaky on the exit there...”
“...he’s got precious few laps to challenge the leader...”
“...those tyres are almost melting from the effort...”
“...they’re coming round the second to last corner now...”
“...just has to hang on hereOH GOODNESS—”
“—that’s the uh, rear right wheel in the air and NO—”

Illustration for article titled Once, They Raced... | A Car Week Special Story
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At that moment, the wind stopped moving. The crowds groaned as one, then fell silent. Not even Murray Walker and James Hunt could speak for moments. Red flags waved. Engines ceased running. Yet the car with the red/white livery, still vertical, spun another time, flying at 185 miles per hour towards the wall.

The 17 car, meanwhile, had just finished its last rotation, in the process shedding pieces of carbon fibre, magnesium, aluminium, and hardened steel. Parts of the rear suspension still held on to the wheels as they bounced; the rest flew like bullets toward the marshalls, photographers and other personnel on track.

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Carlin Bolton’s legs weren’t as lucky.

His glutes held no femur—they’d been pulverized as he hit the wall, much like the entire nosecone. Blood became indistinguishable from paint, grease, and fuel. Someone’s hat had an adductor muscle decorating it; another was stunned by a piece of ankle slung away at a hundred miles an hour.

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Worse, he was still conscious.

He still thought he had it. There was a gap. One can fit two cars in there and there’d still be room for him and his Lola. But he came in too quickly. Turned in too sharply. Understeered. Then at once, he corrected a violent case of snap oversteer. Right at the wall. Next, he felt weightless, a spaceman in a winged ship, but none of his controls worked in the air. They’re not meant to.

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And as he spun there, past the height of the wall, he thought of the time he flew a glider. Barely any more control than this right now, but it was enough.

Carlin wailed on that occasion. He wailed when he hit the wall. Now he didn’t. Most men would be delirious if they were in the same situation but their body stayed intact. So when the marshall sprinted towards the cockpit, he knew that his silence spoke a million words. Of those, “help” won’t ever come out.

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It was all Hilario Martinez could say to his radio.

He needed it soon because if no one finds a way to slow and set him down gently on the gravel trap, his illustrious career would be snuffed out in seven-tenths of a second. That’s how close Bolton was as they entered the final sector with two laps to go. At this juncture, Hilario had become tired from wrestling with the car’s loose rear end. Come to the entry to Turn 9 he and his car were running on fumes.

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The strategy didn’t help his chances either.

He thought he could keep running on the medium tyres, but he could almost see the carcass as he peeled out of Turn 11. That affected grip, forcing him to hunt for marbles on exit and brake earlier on entry. The hards would have been better, but he’d have to live with this tyre till the end. Martinez wasn’t as worried five laps ago. He didn’t expect Bolton to come in, the V-12's howl growing louder in every corner.

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Neither was the front-right wheel.

But Hilario had been hit hard enough to dull every sensation and halt all movement in his voluntary muscles. The only thing that steered his machine was the air—without a rear wing, the car lifted skyward dramatically. The commentators and spectators were at a loss for words as the cars speared off in god-knows-where. Bolton’s car has since stopped spinning and flaming. So had his heart.

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Martinez was just about to miss the final turn completely.

He’d never missed this badly before. Why, if anyone asked, he’d never missed his apexes at all. How else would he hold 77 pole position laps? 55 wins? A world championship title? And the manic thing still had an H-pattern manual transmission. In Monaco, he had to steer one-handed for almost the entire race as he sieved from thirteenth to first. At Kyalami, in the pouring rain, he caught a slide and overtook two drivers in the process. Here, he was untouchable from the start of the race. Not even a botched pit stop could cut down his 60-second lead. Or at least, no one in his team thought it to be possible.

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Flying a car is, though.

Formula One racing machines are, in essence, fighter planes with wings turned upside-down. Ideally, they’re supposed to keep the rest of the car glued to the tarmac. But the car Martinez was driving caught the kerbs on exit, and when the rear wing turned to ribbons, the tilt was enough for the wind to carry the speeding car in a helpless pirouette.

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Hilario, amazingly, still had functioning eyes. He was still able to see whatever remained of Carlin’s machine, his final resting place. He was still able to see the red flag in the hands of a marshall. He was still able to see part of himself, or the car at least, as it makes the last corner.

Rather alarmingly, he still saw the wall.

Illustration for article titled Once, They Raced... | A Car Week Special Story

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