One Sunday evening way back in the summer I received a call from my good friend and slot car buddy, Peter Solari. He seemed more excited than normal and immediately posed the question “How do you fancy representing your country in the Ninco World Cup?”
I was momentarily stunned. Me? In an international race? There could only be one answer “yes!”
And so Team UK was born. Peter also approached his long term pal Paul Leagas, who I’ve raced with in the past, and of course he wasn’t going to miss an opportunity like this either.
As is the way with the NWC, everything is kept under wraps until about three months before the event. Now it seems, according to some of the negative posts I saw on the Forum, that people have a problem with this. Personally I thought it was exciting, as we now had a limited time to get ourselves organised and build a race car and a spare car.
We were going to call ourselves the Loft Boys, as we all used to race on a Friday night in Pauls’ loft, but felt it probably wouldn’t translate too well into Spanish or Portugese. I think Last Chance Heroes would have been apt but of course Team UK made more sense.
Without wasting any time we started to get organised. Thanks to Peters organisational skills, flights were found at a reasonable price with SquezyJet and our individual rooms were booked before the hotel became full. The hotel was subsidised by Ninco and made our rooms extremely affordable. Read on to see the shocking truth.
We are all busy people but we managed to meet up one Sunday in October and thanks to Pauls contact with a local school and Peters extensive stock of Ninco track, we made a test track in the school hall and set about building and testing cars.
The car, set by Ninco, for the event was the Audi R18 LMP. Again, Peter had organised three Pro Race cars and a shed load of spares. After a very productive couple of hours we had a good race car and a comparable spare car. Loaded with every Ninco race part we could use they performed superbly. We then arranged to meet the following Wednesday evening at my local club to give the cars a good workout on the 100ft routed track. Obviously they were going to handle differently on Ninco track but this was all about getting them run in and identifying any major problems. A few minor tweaks and all was good to go.
Friday 22nd November, my 56th birthday, arrived and three little boys were very excited about flying off to Estoril for the 2013 Ninco World Cup. A traffic free ride to Gatwick left us with time for birthday beers before the flight. Everything went well, takeoff on time, smooth 2 hour flight, straight through arrivals and into a waiting hire car.
As we left Lisbon airport we realised, in the dark and pouring rain, that the Portugese style of driving is, shall we say, a little different to ours. The 30 minute, 17 mile journey to the hotel, took 1hr 45mins in the most horrendous traffic – I’ll never complain about the M25 again!
Arriving at the superb Hotel Alvorada we discovered it was 70% full with NWC attendees. Opposite the hotel was the biggest Casino in Europe, all flashing lights and doormen.
Everything from a knackered Fiat to the latest Ferrari were parked outside. A quick pizza and a few beers at a nearby restaurant satisfied our hunger. It was 10.30pm and we were all shattered so we did the obvious thing – we went to the casino! After several cocktails served by some very pretty girls, a live band and a good laugh we headed to bed at 2am.
Saturday morning was free time so a pleasant walk along the seafront, a coffee and a quick recce of the venue. Our biggest problem was that our controllers were wired with 3 pin plugs and they were using DS sockets. All was sorted by a very friendly local, Rui Pinho, who owns a hobby shop and our thanks go to him.
3pm Saturday afternoon saw the start of practice on the two mirror image 8 lane circuits, built specifically for the occasion. Heats of 5 minutes were held so that we could all get used to the layout and lane change system. Pit tables were lined either side of the circuits with two teams per table. Behind us were a couple of really nice guys from South Africa and their team leader, Ruaan, also owned a hobby shop.
Our pit sharers arrived and set up next to us. Yes we were paired with the event favourites, Palau from Barcelona. I have to say that it was at this point that I think we all realised we were still going to be the Loft Boys.
Actually, The Lost Boys! As Team Palau unpacked I hope our jaws didn’t quite reach the floor, but it was damn close. First out of the bag – headsets with microphones. Followed ( I still fall about when I think of this ) by a white leather driving glove for one’s trigger finger!!! Trouble is, no one else seemed to be amused by this. Then I realised, there were other closet Michael Jacksons amongst the other teams. More headsets appeared along with whizz bang controllers – all knobs and dials, whereas Team UK were just three knobs with a fresh packet of Fruit Mentos.
6pm and practice was over. Now the serious stuff. Two teams at a time had to present their race cars, body off, motor removed, rear tyres removed, to the two Ninco Tech guys. Having chosen a motor and a pair of tyres from a pile the car had to be built in front of the techs and then it was into Parc Ferme. Stops any cheating, that’s for sure.
Next was qualifying. This was to determine which lane you started on and was a bit uneccessary as we had to race all lanes, but it gave the evening an edge. Peter and I voted Paul and he was brave enough to stand up in front of all the other 42 competitors and run the car on lane 12 for one minute to achieve a best lap time.
As Paul pulled the trigger on our no knob and dial standard Parma Plus the car stayed, motionless, on the start line – panic! Ninco tech guy helped us out, which is not in the rules, and after some precious minutes had passed the top driver from Palau jumped in and caressed our car into life, literally. We’ve no idea what he did. It was running like a bag of nails and he just passed his hands over the rear of the chassis and as he did it all went quiet and smooth – gobsmacked!
Back on track with a working car and Paul, now under double stress, completed our qualifying. We started in lane 10, a middle lane, so good news.
We arrived back at the hotel at 9.30pm and so revisited our favourite Italian restaurant run by a Persian, from the night before. We had a good laugh with the owner, who insisted that as we were such nice people we should have a drink with him. That done and a very early start of 6.45am awaiting us we did the obvious thing – casino!!!
Three cocktails, more pretty girls and live music and a 3am finish. Peter received a Tweet from a friend in the USA saying we were more James Hunt than Nikki Lauda – how very true.
Sunday saw us up, bright and early, breakfast, check out and first team at the track. After an initial 30 minute warm up the race was on and at 9.15am the 2013 Ninco World Cup began. Each heat was to be 18 minutes long, so one of us drove, one marshalled and one pit crew.
After the first heat there was a power problem on lane 9 and after its rectification the race was started again. Poor Paul had to repeat the first heat, so he started the day with a 36 minute drive after 4 hours sleep. I was marshal and struggled to keep my concentration up for 36 minutes, but we managed and the event was trouble free from then on.
As the hours rolled by and the lap counts headed towards 1000, South Africa had a massive shunt into the back of our car. We remained damage free, but South Africa were off with a missing screen and a busted chassis. After some labour intensive repairs we were only 23 laps behind them and feeling quite confident.
However, Ruaan and his co- driver pulled out the stops and gradually made the gap bigger, finally beating us by 60 laps. On the last heat we both completed 87 laps but weren’t even close to the top teams, Palau completing an amazing 105 laps in that heat.
As the clock finally beat its last second of the race, we crossed the line having completed 1291 laps in 6 hours. The winning team, Palau completed 1556 just 12 laps ahead of Team GT from Portugal.
Italy managed a commendable 6th place with France in 8th, South Africa 14th and Team UK bringing up the rear. The rest of the places were either Spanish or Portugese teams. The day rounded off with everyone being presented with a Ninco 20th Anniversary McLaren F1 GTR and of course silverware for the winners.