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Circus Before Dawn

Circus Before Dawn

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Circus Before Dawn

939 pages
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Dec 14, 2010


The worlds most glamorous circus is haunted by a mysterious curse that has endured for decades and follows the show like a shadow. An unheralded performer seeks to break the spell. Someone else is displeased.

* * * * * *

Shortly before the dawn of the new millennium, a video arrives at the postbox of internationally acclaimed motorsport journalist, Trevor Banks. The startling images depict the elite driving talents of an intriguing racecar driver.

Banks is assigned to investigate the story. As he does so, he discovers that the talented performer also has attracted the attention of a psychopathic saboteur. From Northern Californias legendary racetracks to multiple European venues, including the dazzling jewel that is the Monaco Grand Prix, the story takes the reader on a wild, unpredictable ride within the dangerous circus that is Formula One racing.

With an engaging style and a sharp eye for detail, David Miller has crafted a compelling drama that hurtles toward its shocking climax with the purposefulness and hair-raising excitement of a Formula One racecar as it rockets toward the chequered flag.

* * * * * *

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Circus Before Dawn shall be donated to the Hole in The Wall Gang Camp for seriously ill children (www.holeinthewallgang.org) and to the Ayrton Senna Institute, the mission of which is to create opportunities for human development for children and young people (www.senna.globo.com/institutoayrtonsenna).

Dec 14, 2010

Tentang penulis

David A. Miller is the vice president of Slingshot Group Coaching where he serves as lead trainer utilizing the IMPROVleadership coaching strategy with ministry leaders around the country. He has served as a pastor, speaker, teacher, and coach in diverse contexts, from thriving, multi-site churches to parachurch ministries.

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Circus Before Dawn - David Miller


Copyright © 2011 by DAVID MILLER

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The 1990s-era Formula One Grand Prix driving suit depicted on the book cover is owned by the author and is used here for illustrative purposes only; the corporate emblems affixed to the suit are not intended to convey any affiliation with, or sponsorship of, this book.

The author may be reached at circusbeforedawn.com.

This book, in addition to other iUniverse books, may be ordered in hardbound, softbound, or electronic-book form through booksellers such as amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, or by contacting:


1663 Liberty Drive

Bloomington, IN 47403


1-800-Authors (1-800-288-4677)

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any Web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

ISBN: 978-1-4401-6984-7 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4401-6985-4 (ebook)

ISBN: 978-1-4401-6986-1 (hc)s

Library of C

iUniverse rev. date: 3/21/2011




1.   Miles

2.   Pacific Rim Racing

3.   Juliette

4.   Sears Point

5.   Curse of Monza

6.   Chopin

7.   Jamie

8.   Dominick

9.   Topaz

10.   Mosquitoes

11.   Pisa

12.   Valley of the Moon

13.   Brazil

14.   Circus Animal

15.   Antonio

16.   Reynaldo

17.   Buzz

18.   Tracings

19.   Dawn

20.   Turn 2

21.   Val

22.   Angels and Devils

23.   Xenon

24.   Imola

25.   RoadRocket

26.   Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

27.   Because

28.   JC02X

29.   Chicanery

30.   Deluge

31.   Backlash

32.   Silverstone

33.   Tightrope Walker

34.   Sword Swallower

35.   Copenhagen

36.   Nyhavn

37.   Tivoli

38.   Trojan Horse

39.   Strøget

40.   Aurora Borealis

41.   Shadows

42.   Scandal

43.   Spa

44.   Gonchi

45.   Eau Rouge

46.   Monaco

47.   Louis

48.   Wheel to Wheel

49.   Blood Money

50.   San Francisco

51.   Turn 11

52.   Halogen Lamps

53.   Sound

54.   Devil’s Slide

55.   Graveyard

56.   Russian Roulette

57.   Scrapbook

58.   Pier 39

59.   Kometto

60.   The Morning After




For Leslye, Alex, and Cathlyne,

with love

And in remembrance of

Ayrton Senna da Silva


Formula One World Drivers’ Champion

1988, 1990, 1991


Jim Clark


Formula One World Drivers’ Champion

1963, 1965

Thanks for the memories

Obrigado as memorias


In the prologue and in other passages contained within this novel, I mention the names of professional racecar drivers whose untimely deaths are part of motorsport’s history. My purpose in recalling these individuals and the circumstances that surrounded their passing is to provide the reader with historical context for the events described in the story.

The other characters—notably, the drivers and teams that competed in the 1999 Formula One Grand Prix season, the race series organizers, corporate-sponsor representatives, and the narrator and other journalists who covered that campaign—are the product of my imagination. Any similarity between these fictional characters and real persons is purely coincidental. This novel therefore should be considered a work of fiction.

The racing circuits are described as they were configured in the seasons in which they are noted, with two exceptions: the United States Grand Prix at San Francisco, and the Danish Grand Prix at Copenhagen, never existed. They remain dreams in search of other dreamers. I have taken creative license in reshuffling the 1999 Formula One racing schedule, rewriting certain technical regulations, and renaming a few streets and hotels located in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This novel contains profanity, adult situations, and graphic descriptions of motor-racing accidents. The reader also may notice grammatical improprieties—most are deliberate. For these reasons, this novel is not recommended for children or other sensitive readers.


The past is but the beginning of the beginning,

and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn …

H.G. Wells

You see things; and you say Why? But I dream things that never were; and I say Why not?

George Bernard Shaw

O, for a horse with wings!

William Shakespeare

There are but three true sports—

bullfighting, mountain climbing, and motor-racing.

The rest are merely games.

Ernest Hemingway


Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari,

Imola, Italy


A special hello to my dear … friend, Alain. We all miss you, Alain.

Ayrton Senna, Formula One World Drivers’ Champion, 1988, 1990-1991,

reconciling with former teammate and rival, Alain Prost,

Formula One World Drivers’ Champion, 1985-1986, 1989, 1993,

in a radio transmission, Sunday-morning practice, May 1, 1994.


The San Marino Grand Prix

Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari

Imola, Italy

Sunday, May 1, 1994, 2:04 p.m.

By the time I had navigated a path from the trackside paddock to the media center beside the start/finish line, I was sweating profusely. The parade lap already had commenced.

Not like you to cut it so close, the wire-service veteran declared. He moved his chair so I could slide into mine. Barely a minute to go before the start.

He was correct. In a moment, the racecars would reappear in two files, thirteen vehicles in one, twelve in the other. They would complete their parade lap and halt at their starting-grid positions as determined by the qualifying times that the drivers had posted earlier in the weekend.

Were you here for qualifying? he asked.

Afraid so, I replied, opening my laptop. In the paddock. And you?

Right here.

My thoughts drifted to yesterday afternoon, when one of the sport’s newcomers was killed on this racing circuit, scarcely more than a stone’s throw from our vantage point. Affable and quick, Roland Ratzenberger had been attempting to qualify for the San Marino Grand Prix. But eighteen minutes into the session, disaster befell the congenial, dark-haired Austrian: Ratzenberger lost control of his racecar while entering Villeneuve, a treacherous right-hand corner bordered by a concrete barrier.

The vehicle left the racing line at a wisp below 200 miles per hour. One second later, the car slammed into the retaining wall. The impact broke Ratzenberger’s neck. The limp, sickening manner in which his helmet drooped and came to rest upon the cockpit’s side attested to the collision’s massive force. Flown almost immediately by helicopter to Maggiore Hospital, located in Bologna, he died eight minutes after his arrival.

That was the official story, anyway. One rarely knows where truth meets fiction in such unfortunate circumstances. My contacts in the trackside medical center speculated that Ratzenberger died before the debris from his shattered racecar stopped raining upon the track. The discrepancy regarding the moment of his death was more than academic. Under Italian law, a fatality at a racing circuit required cancellation of the entire event—Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race. Had the official story circulated to avoid a costly and inconvenient rescheduling? Many journalists wondered.   

Witnesses reported that moments prior to the accident, a piece of bodywork, possibly the front wing, detached and flew from the racecar. The resulting loss of downforce—the suction gained through the car’s aerodynamic design—rendered the vehicle unable to negotiate the bend in the track and explained the steep angle of impact. The consensus among the scribes was that any loss of downforce at that location meant only one thing: Ratzenberger never had a chance.

His was Formula One’s first race-weekend fatality in a dozen years. The accident occurred at the corner named to honor the memory of Gilles Villeneuve, the last fatality in Formula One race qualifying. Gilles died when a slower driver’s car had strayed into his path at Zolder prior to the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix. The vehicles had touched, launching Gilles’s car and causing it to somersault and disintegrate as it threw its driver into a fence, breaking his neck.   

I’m not sure they should be doing this, my colleague offered. It doesn’t feel like the prop— The familiar sound of the racecars exiting from the Variante Alta chicane eclipsed his comments. The cars approached Rivassa, the double-apex hairpin. In a moment, the vehicles would enter Variante Bassa, the final turn, before decelerating to take their standing positions on the starting grid.

He tried again. Should the race have been cancelled?

You mean for Roland?

Yes, out of respect. It’s not everyday that Death visits professional sport. Even this one.

I agreed. Like many fans and journalists, Saturday’s tragedy had stunned my colleague. He—and they—had allowed themselves to believe that Formula One motorsport had become a glorious, virtually risk-free circus performed on five continents.

Glorious, it was.

But safe? Not at the speeds attainable by a modern Formula One racecar.

Seventeen years had elapsed since I began my career covering Formula One in 1977. In that period, the sport had evolved dramatically. To lessen the risk to drivers, racetrack designers had added wider runoff areas, slow-speed chicanes, and larger tire barriers. Those developments had widened the envelope of safety. But motor racing technology also had made quantum leaps, especially with the advent of computer-aided design, or CAD, in the 1980s. Assisted by their computers, F1 teams had created better aerodynamic designs, wrapped around powerplants that boasted greater horsepower, which had narrowed the envelope of safety once again.

The changes had been part of a cat-and-mouse game conducted in wind tunnels and upon racing circuits across the globe. Improved racecar construction increased a driver’s chances of surviving a mishap. But acceleration and top-end power had become phenomenal. By 1994, a Formula One racecar at speed traveled the length of an American football field in one second.

Ratzenberger’s car had been rocketing across the tarmac when it smashed into the concrete barrier.

A chance? Roland never had a prayer.

The race could be staged on a different weekend, I said. That would be the civilized thing to do. Had Ratzenberger been better known, not a winless rookie, race officials might have considered honoring his memory by postponing the San Marino Grand Prix.

I leaned forward to glimpse the racecars as they approached the start/finish line. They were magnificent—sleek, colorful, and deafeningly loud. Their needlelike carbonfiber monocoques, accessorized with wicked wings at the nose and tail, caused the cars to resemble missiles. The wide tires located outside the monocoques gave the cars a menacing countenance. The vehicles lurched and slowed as the drivers created friction to inject heat into the tires. The snarling of engines and the potent scent of high octane race fuel filled the air.

At the press conference conducted after yesterday’s session, I had inquired about rescheduling the Grand Prix. But I knew the answer before the race official had responded. Racing is dangerous. Our prayers are with Roland Ratzenberger’s family and team. The show must go on. We must not inconvenience the fans, sponsors, and media. The usual blather.   

I departed from the media center early Saturday evening troubled and saddened by Ratzenberger’s death. At thirty-three years of age and one of the show’s oldest performers, he finally had attained his childhood dream, only to die after having competed in a single Grand Prix. I would have to obtain quotes from his teammates for my British motorsport magazine, RoadRocket. The task would involve approaching his crewmates who would prefer to be left alone in their grief. I also would need to seek out other drivers—none of whom ever liked to discuss the danger.

Numbed by the afternoon’s tragedy, I decided to seek my quotes on Sunday morning. With the benefit of sleep and the passage of time, my task would be easier. Having elected to return to my dimly lit Italian hotel room, I felt a tug at my sleeve. I turned and gazed into the tanned face of a dear friend. But now, his dark Brazilian eyes possessed an unusual, haunted gloss. His career was one that I knew quite well, having charted its meteoric path since his days as the Pan American Karting Champion in 1977, a title that he had earned at the age of seventeen.

Ayrton Senna.

Dressed casually in blue jeans and a maroon polo shirt, his trademark blue baseball style cap pulled low on his forehead, the three-time Formula One World Drivers’ Champion appeared as if he had seen a ghost.

Trevor, he said, his voice barely audible. Can you do me a favor? His speech was rushed, as was typical whenever we met outside the paddock. We each knew that within seconds a horde of fans and media representatives would surround him.

Of course, I replied. We had been friends for years, cautiously at first, a relationship borne of mutual respect. He said that my writing was impartial; I observed that he drove like no one else ever had. We each knew that the other was correct.

Find me an Austrian flag, he said. Search hard, okay?

I’ll do my best.

Before the race. He squeezed my shoulder and turned as other reporters engulfed him, eager to obtain his comments regarding the day’s tragedy. The photographers were there, too. Magazine publishers craved pictures of the handsome, enormously popular Brazilian. Such images always boosted sales. But Senna kept moving as all public figures learn to do. He reached the paddock and escaped into the sanctity of his team’s garage. A man who was deeply religious and a committed racer, he needed to be alone with his grief and then somehow divorce himself from it, before the start of the San Marino Grand Prix—now only seconds away.

I spent Sunday morning obtaining my quotes in as dignified a manner as I could muster. I scribbled the tributes on my notepad and inquired whether anyone knew where I might find an Austrian flag. No one did. Italian, German, Japanese, English, or Brazilian flags were easy. But an Austrian had not won a Grand Prix since 1992. I briefly considered attempting to pilfer the flag that would be used during the opening ceremonies. But if I succeeded, I would be cheating the other Austrians who were entered in today’s race. And if I were caught, I would lose my media credential. So I kept searching until the moment the racecars left the paddock for the starting grid. I asked one of Senna’s mechanics to inform his driver of my failure. He promised that he would. I thanked him, wished his team good luck, and set off to wade quickly through the crowd.

Few moments in sport rival the excitement and drama that accompany the start of a Formula One Grand Prix. Ratzenberger’s death, however, had altered the mood of the weekend. The joyous exuberance that characterizes a Grand Prix was missing. Instead, as the racecars completed their parade lap, an eerie foreboding seemed to hang in the air.

Certain familiar markers were present—the huge crowd, the usual pageantry, the television cameras. And Senna. The undisputed master in qualifying a Grand Prix racecar, he again had qualified fastest, advancing him to the front spot on the grid—pole position. With this, his sixty-fifth career pole, Senna not only had earned far more poles than any driver before him, but several times the sum amassed by the other twenty-four drivers assembled for today’s race. His career victories were nearly triple their combined total. His superior talent was unquestioned.

But having spun off the racing surface during this season’s preceding Grands Prix held in Brazil and Japan, Senna knew that before he could reaffirm his dominance, first he needed to reclaim it. As I waited for the green starting lights to illuminate, I knew that no one on the track sought victory today more than the three time world champion. He long ago had established himself as the best of the world’s active professional racecar drivers. Here at Imola, I sensed that he would redouble his efforts to ascend to the next and highest level—that of the undisputed greatest driver of any era. Today, and in future events, Senna would race against history. Even among his detractors, few would bet against him.

And yet, something was wrong. Quite wrong. My glimpse of him as he readied himself to do battle this afternoon revealed anything but the steely-eyed champion who could unnerve his rivals with his assured countenance in the cockpit. I instead observed someone who seemed uncomfortable. Someone who appeared as if he wanted to be anywhere but strapped within that racecar.

I assumed that his demeanor was due to Ratzenberger’s death. But Senna’s discomfort also could have stemmed from the track’s design, which was more dangerous than most. Earlier in the day, he met with the other competitors to discuss safety. Perhaps their comments weighed upon him. Or perhaps he was worried about his racecar: Senna had described its handling as nervous. And the position of its steering wheel had not been to his liking. Without time to fabricate a new steering column, his team had modified the column’s length earlier in the weekend, then welded the alteration.

The green lights flashed on and the front cars pulled away cleanly. But chaos erupted in midfield. One of the drivers had stalled his car. He waved his arms to warn the drivers behind him; most managed to avoid his crippled vehicle, but one did not. The ensuing collision wrecked both cars. The force of the impact scattered debris across the track and launched a wheel and other bits into the crowd. Several spectators and a policeman were injured.

A different driver’s severe crash in Friday’s practice, then Roland’s death on Saturday; now this on Sunday. To my left, a Nigerian writer and friend from Newswatch magazine pronounced the weekend infiltrated with "bad juju" and left the room. I tried to type a few notes—a difficult task when spectators are en route to hospital.   

The race should have been stopped. The undamaged cars instead sped about the circuit. Only as they completed Lap 1 and approached the carnage did a safety vehicle emerge to slow the competitors. Corner workers cleaned the racing surface and medical personnel attended to the injured. The drivers involved in the incident were unhurt, but they did not rejoin the competition.

The corner workers eventually removed the wrecked vehicles. As the other, undamaged cars completed Lap 4, the safety car indicated that it would depart the track at the conclusion of Lap 5, signaling the resumption of the race. As on the parade lap, the drivers swerved their cars to warm the tires. The drivers knew that the slow laps completed behind the safety vehicle had caused the tires to cool from race temperature—185 degrees Fahrenheit. The loss in temperature would result in a precipitous loss of air pressure. A drop in such pressure of as little as one-fifth of a pound per square inch could reduce a tire’s optimum handling characteristics. The cars would be harder to manage at the restart.

Compounding the drivers’ concerns, the track at Autodromo Ferrari was bumpy. Offseason resurfacing to correct the problem instead had exacerbated it.

Lap 5 concluded and the safety car departed.

The drivers returned to race speed and completed Lap 6 without incident.

At the start of Lap 7, Senna, in the lead, accelerated past us and toward the first turn, a sweeping left-hander named Tamburello—a curve as graceful as the tambourine for which it was named. Those of us located in the media center watched television monitors as he approached the corner flat-out, or nearly so, as was typical for him. Thrice before, he had won the San Marino Grand Prix.

But on this warm, sunny Sunday, at 2:17 p.m., horror revisited the circus.

Entering Tamburello, Senna’s racecar twitched on the bumpy surface; the rear end bottomed out and sent sparks flying. With a flick of the steering wheel, Senna corrected the car’s nervousness. For a moment, the car appeared headed for safe passage through the turn. But instead of veering to the left in concert with the surface, the vehicle traveled through the corner’s apex, leapt over the kerbing, and proceeded directly toward the concrete wall.

The runoff area was eleven yards wide, pitifully short and ineffective. The crash one second later seemed less a collision than an explosion.

My God, muttered the wire-service veteran. I stared in silence, slack-jawed in disbelief, my lower lip quivering. The racecar’s wreckage bounced to the circuit. The energy of the crash dissipated as vehicle bits scattered upon the racing surface.

The tub of Senna’s blue and white car remained intact, momentarily giving hope that the strong carbonfiber monocoque had saved its driver. We stared at the monitor, searching for Senna’s hands, hoping to see movement. But there was nothing. His familiar helmet, which bore the bright yellow, green, and blue colors of the Brazilian flag, twitched once and then was still. I cupped my hands and prayed.

A journalist seated near us slammed his laptop shut and covered his face with his hands; his chest began heaving. A colleague from Lisbon kicked a rubbish bin and cursed in Portuguese. Someone else rushed to the sink and vomited.

Race officials halted the competition. Medical personnel arrived within minutes that seemed like hours. The medics lifted Senna from the cockpit, placed him upon the track, and attended to him. A pool of dark blood formed on the asphalt. A helicopter appeared in the sky and landed; moments later, it departed to transport Senna to the same hospital visited the day before by a barely alive or perhaps already dead Roland Ratzenberger. It all seemed like a macabre, surreal redux to Saturday’s tragedy.

In the media center, usually a hub of chatter and activity, a bizarre silence gripped us. Hardened news veterans stood transfixed and in shock, as if unconvinced by what we had just witnessed. I imagined Senna’s millions of fans watching in disbelief in Brazil, Japan, Portugal, and elsewhere—their cries echoing Tamburello’s shocking, cruel note. I took my seat and tried to type my story, but the enormity of what I had witnessed overwhelmed me, and my hands refused to stop shaking.   

What transpired in the ensuing hours disintegrated into a blur. Course officials restarted the race, a winner eventually was declared. But none of that registered. The only pertinent news related to Senna’s condition, and the hospital’s announcements were increasingly ominous. At 6:40 p.m., he died.

I shuffled to the paddock, bewildered by this latest reminder that Death stalks the Formula One circus like an invisible, untamed tiger. The teams were in shock. Senna had seemed so … invincible. He was the driver who many observers least expected to suffer a fatal accident. Among his younger competitors, fear surfaced: if Senna could die, was any one of them safe? But older drivers who had seen the man’s single-minded dedication to finding the limits of his racecar’s performance were less surprised. Senna always had sought the edge.

I found the crew member who I had encountered prior to the race. His eyes were swollen and red, his head drooped as he listlessly packed away the team’s equipment. I had no stomach for interviewing him. Instead, we simply embraced each other. He recalled our earlier moment together. He said that he had relayed my message before the start of the race and the response had been not to worry, for another friend had procured the desired Austrian flag. Senna had carried the banner with him in his racecar; a medic had recovered it from the wreckage. The triple world champion had planned to unfurl the flag in tribute to Ratzenberger on the cool-down lap after the race. But the gesture had been stolen from us along with the lives of both drivers.

Italians placed bouquets outside the hospital where Senna died and congregated on the route to the airport. They assembled out of respect for one of the fiercest competitors that sport has known and to say farewell to a man whose racing achievements and humanitarian gestures had been felt by millions across the globe. In a decade of Grand Prix racing, Senna had earned more than one hundred million English pounds, but he had never lost sight of the world’s disadvantaged, particularly the children who live in poverty. During dinners at his villa in the Portuguese Algarve, he had enjoyed sharing with me the details of his immense charitable contributions to children’s organizations in and around São Paulo and elsewhere—provided that I never printed a word of it. I had kept my promise, but Senna’s extraordinary philanthropy had touched so many people, his compassion was anything but a secret.

The Italians’ gestures of respect and sorrow were a harbinger of what I would encounter in Brazil. Grief devastated the South American nation. In a gesture unprecedented for a fallen sports hero, the Brazilian President declared three days of national mourning. He ordered all state schools closed. Flags on all government buildings flew at half-mast.

On May 4th, 1994, a jetliner carrying the body of Ayrton Senna descended gently into São Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport. Brazilian air force jets fell into line on each side of the aircraft to escort it onto the tarmac. Thousands of Brazilians, many of them in tears, waited at the airport in the warm morning sunshine.

Senna’s casket, draped in the Brazilian flag, was placed atop a fire truck. An honor guard escort of twenty-three soldiers, mounted atop magnificent brown steeds, accompanied the vehicle as it proceeded through São Paulo.

Three million Brazilians lined the streets for a glimpse of the cortege. Thousands more attached themselves to the procession, itself—a comet’s undulating shadow. Many people painted Senna’s name on their faces or held signs that bid farewell. Others trembled and fainted as their tears flowed. Never had I witnessed such overwhelming anguish expressed on such a massive public stage. Brazil had lost its cherished son—the performer who had traveled the globe to compete against established sportsmen from wealthier countries, who had waved the Brazilian flag on his victory laps and on the winner’s podium, and who had made Brazilians feel immensely proud.

The procession reached the Legislative Assembly where Senna’s body lay in state. There, atop the flag-draped casket, his helmet rested. Two hundred fifty thousand people, many having stood in line for several hours, filed past the casket to say good-bye.

Senna’s funeral the following day was an emotional affair of extraordinary proportions. The superstars of international motorsport arrived to act as pallbearers; several had competed against him on the world’s most famous racing circuits. As Senna’s coffin descended into the ground, Brazilian air force jets screamed past overhead. Two aircraft let loose smoke trails, inscribing the letter S, accompanied by a heart, in the sky above São Paulo. Brazilian soldiers fired volleys skyward in a final tribute to the fallen champion.

Already a legend in life, in death Senna ascended into the realm of myth. Many commentators wondered who among the remaining drivers might fill the void. In journalists’ parlance, the question we asked ourselves was, Who would be the next Senna?

I wondered if we would see the likes of him again.


Laguna Seca Raceway,

Salinas, California 1999

I am an artist. The track is my canvas, and the car is my brush.

Graham Hill, Formula One World Drivers’ Champion, 1962, 1968.

1. Miles

Teddington, Middlesex, United Kingdom

Thursday, July 22, 1999, 11:34 p.m.

I arrived home after attending the Spanish Grand Prix and subsequent disciplinary proceedings directed against a driver whose post-race celebration included spinning his yellow Ferrari F-50 in tight, tire-smoking circles in downtown Barcelona. This evening marked the beginning of a midseason respite from the rigors of covering the Formula One circus. Ten races had been staged; the venues had been located in Australia, Brazil, Malaysia, and several European countries. Six races remained. The next event, the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, was more than a fortnight away, Sunday, August 8th.

Having spent the day in transit, I looked forward to relaxing before crossing the pond. I also hoped to revive the endangered species that shared my cottage, located in Teddington, ten miles southwest of central London. In their glory—that is, the afternoon I brought them home from the nursery—they were ordinary houseplants. But weeks of neglect had exacted a toll. The once-thriving organisms now resembled freeze-dried vegetables. My goal was to nurture them back to health.

But even such modest aspirations can go awry. The culprit appeared in the form of a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and addressed to me. It rested atop my postbox when I emerged from the taxi that transported me from London-Heathrow airport. I paid the driver, entered my humble little plant hospice, and opened the parcel.

A videocassette with a short note: Trevor, American-spec. You won’t believe it. Miles.

Such an intriguing message from my editor at RoadRocket, together with my journalist’s curiosity, normally would have been all the motivation I required to retrieve my American-specification videocassette recorder. But not tonight. I needed to rest my head upon a soft pillow. Miles could wait.

Or so I thought.

The telephone awakened me at 5:30 a.m., approximately four hours before I had hoped to open my eyes. This had better be good, I muttered, clearing my throat.

Trevor, my good man! Good morning, Ace!

I paused to collect my thoughts. Good morning, Miles. I pinched my eyes, then lied like a diplomat: What a pleasant surprise.

How was Barcelona?

Hot. But lovely, as always.

I enjoyed your column that recapped the Spanish Grand Prix.

Thank you. Warning bells sounded within my brain. Miles rarely resorted to flattery unless he had an unpleasant assignment to spring upon me.

Your sidebar title—‘Ferrari Doughnut Maker Fined For Shedding Rubber In Downtown Barcelona’—was a tad rough, but I fixed that.

I’m sure you did, Miles. Listen, it’s early. I’m feeling a bit shattered. May I ring you back? Say, next week? I’d like to hibernate.

That Catalan summer sun is delightful for the grapes.

Yes, well, good for them. Not for me. I feel like a raisin.

Okay; pay attention, Ace. There are two reasons why I called.

Here it comes, I thought—and beware of reason number two.

First, did you watch the video?

It arrived, but—

Trevor, listen, do me a favor: go retrieve it, pop it into the VCR. Do you think you can manage that task in your wearied condition?

You mean now? Are we taking odds?

Yes to your first inquiry. No to your second. I’ll wait.

Are you sure? My fetching the device will require a moment. The VCR is stored where no thief would dare to venture—beneath my laundry basket.

No problem. While you do that, I’ll delete more nonsense from your column. One would think we were paying you by the word.

Very well. Hang on. I retrieved the VCR and hooked it to the telly. I inserted the tape. You still there?

Still here.

Okay, I’m watching some static right now. Let’s see, shades of gray are interspersed with several black and white stripes. Quite intriguing. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that you awakened me from a well-deserved sleep to share this with me.

Be patient.

I was about to reply when the screen displayed a message: Property of Pacific Rim Racing. All rights reserved. Reproduction in any form prohibited. Copyright July 20, 1999.

Home movies from Jamie Cannon’s outfit?

Correct, Miles replied.

Is he throwing in the towel? That was the rumor I heard along pit lane at the Circuit de Catalunya; that the team has one foot planted in the grave. Sponsors want to associate with winners. Pacific Rim hasn’t produced. I realize that it’s only their second season in Formula One, but—

Filmed on Tuesday. Arrived late yesterday afternoon.

Still warm then. Like the back of my sunburned neck.

The video began with a view of Northern California’s coastal hills. The Pacific Ocean appeared in the background. I recognized the location immediately—Laguna Seca Raceway, located five miles east of Monterey. Motorsport teams and fans adored the venue.

If the residents only knew…. I whispered.


How lucky they are to live in Northern California. And Laguna Seca: my God, that place is lovely. World-class beautiful. Each time I’ve visited, I’ve never wanted to leave.

Hold those thoughts, Ace. And keep watching.

The camera panned slowly to the east and focused on the Corkscrew, a devilish bit of racing-circuit engineering. Marked by a series of bends that create a five story vertical drop, the corner’s curling descent demands respect and readily inspires fear. The path would not be replicated in a Formula One course constructed in today’s era of heightened safety awareness. But the Corkscrew was built in 1957, when racecars were slower and racing circuits were designed to be dangerous. Approached correctly, the corner rewards a driver with a rush of adrenaline and slingshot-like propulsion down the hill and into Turn 9, a sweeping left-hander. Approached incorrectly, the driver might leave the racing line within one second, and die within the next.

The camera remained focused on the winding ribbon of asphalt. A Formula One racecar’s engine fired in anger. I heard a rhythmic, aggressive blipping of the throttle, a cadence that suggested a confident pro sat in the cockpit.

Why, he’s making that bloody thing scream, I said.

I was surprised as well, Miles replied.

The camera pulled back and the field of view encompassed pit lane. I surmised that the photographer was stationed in the photo tower located by the start/finish line. Posed in pit lane, the JC02 glistened in the sunshine. The racecar was Pacific Rim’s entrant in the 1999 Formula One World Championship. The monocoque displayed the abstract graphics that melded the Japanese and American flags; the imagery originated on the nosecone and flowed onto the racecar’s flanks and over its sidepods. Quite striking, really. A pity that the car’s performance never matched its livery.

The car’s artwork symbolized the melding of two cultures that formed the team’s heart: engine builders and technicians from Japan, hi-tech wizards and chassis constructors from California’s Silicon Valley. On paper, theirs was a marriage made in heaven. On the track, the team had known only the purgatory of the backmarkers. Pacific Rim never had been even remotely competitive. The racecar’s stunning artwork therefore retained a more functional purpose: it consumed lots of space, which more successful teams reserved for commercial sponsorship’s lucrative symbols. Pacific Rim’s benefactors were few and modest.

The driver’s helmet was colorful, but unrecognizable. Who was it, I wondered, who revved the engine with such rhythmic ferocity? This season, only twenty-two drivers are permitted to compete in a Formula One Grand Prix. An additional dozen are employed as test drivers. Spend enough time trackside, and one learns to distinguish between the drivers based on their individual cadences and the songs of their cars’ engines. I thought I knew most drivers’ throttle melodies. But this sound was new. And quite startling.

Who was it? And why?

Then I recalled the accident that occurred one week prior to the Spanish Grand Prix. Dominick Leighton, the lead driver for Pacific Rim and a veteran of over two hundred Formula One races, had been seriously injured at the team’s Sonoma County proving grounds, Sears Point Raceway. The venue was located in Northern California’s wine country, one hundred fifty miles north of Laguna Seca. The mishap struck as Dominick, true to form, aggressively entered the Carousel, a late-apex corner that sweeps down and to the left. The competing forces of the racecar’s acceleration and the curve of the track had been too much for the vehicle to absorb. A rear suspension component snapped and took the right rear wheel with it. By the time the vehicle stopped cartwheeling, poor Dominick—a decent chap and one of the last of the old guard—had fractured both legs. The accident finished his season and probably his career.

Pacific Rim Racing needed another driver.

Dominick’s replacement? I asked.

I believe so, Ace.

The JC02 pulled away from the pit wall and edged slowly down pit lane and onto the track near the start/finish line. This would be a warm-up lap to ensure that the team properly had sorted the car and that the tires had reached their correct temperature for maximum grip. The second lap also was a warm-up, but quicker. The driver’s purposeful style intrigued me. A lot of confidence, this one had.

Will the third time be the charm?

Right again. Do you have your watch ready? The next lap is the hot one.

But the camera’s elapsed-time clock is displayed in the lower right corner. You don’t trust it?

Trevor, I’m an editor. I don’t trust anything. Let’s use your watch as verification.

Fair enough. I’m ready. I’ll engage my elapsed-time counter when the car crosses the start/finish line. I’ll probably be a bit slower than the camera clock.

Trev, you might want to increase the volume.

It’s early, Miles. And I do have neighbors, or I did the last time I checked. But I followed his suggestion. Okay, here we go … now!

I engaged the elapsed-time function on my watch. I noted the time on the screen as a check. The JC02 flew down the start/finish straight as if launched from a cannon. As the racecar sliced through the gentle bend at Turn 1, I was certain that the vehicle would careen into the tire walls that framed Turn 2. But the car slowed and seamlessly negotiated the double-apex left-hander.

Wow. Shall I narrate?

No need, Miles replied. I’ve watched the tape several times. Just enjoy. And after the car emerges from Turn 11, check the camera’s elapsed-time clock.

I watched the JC02 make its run around the circuit, except for the back straight obscured by the hill that partially framed the Corkscrew. The racecar’s speed was breathtaking, but so was the smoothness with which the driver negotiated the turns.

Miles chimed in as I waited for the racecar to tackle the Corkscrew. Your surprise quiz for today: Laguna Seca lap record, please?

Sixty-seven seconds and change, if I’m not mistaken. Set last September.

Correct. I knew we hired you for some reason. Miles enjoyed telling me that, as if he had hired me last month instead of twenty-two years ago.

Corkscrew coming up. The camera zoomed in on the twisty stretch of sacred terror.

I had expected the racecar to crest the hill cautiously, as even the world’s best drivers typically do. A driver can make a mess of things in that corner even when he’s done everything properly. I therefore was unprepared for the sight of the JCO2 hurtling over the top of the hill and down the steep vertical descent. The car seemed to be surfing on air.

Whoa! My heartbeat quickened. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed.

Quite something, isn’t it?

Miles, I’ve been to that circuit many times; covered several races. I’ve attended many winter test sessions. I have never seen anything like that.

Nor I, Ace.

The JC02 completed the final turns, then accelerated along the final straight, crossed the start/finish line and slowed for a cool-down lap. I noted the time on the screen as I stopped my own elapsed-time counter.

Sixty-five point five! Miles! The guy just clipped two seconds from the official record!

And your watch?

Sixty-five point nine. Let me just do a bit of math. Accounting for my own slow reflexes starting and stopping my watch, that seems about right. And you?

I viewed it several times. Under 66 seconds each time, every watch I used—and I borrowed a handful.

That lap was amazing. But are you confident that it didn’t involve any chicanery? Two seconds represent an eternity on that circuit. Perhaps a bit of hocus-pocus in the quest for new sponsorship?

You mean like substituting rocket fuel for petrol? Or hiding an identical racecar behind the hill to jump in and ‘make up’ a few seconds? There’s no way of knowing with certainty, Trev, but I doubt it. One may criticize Pacific Rim’s dismal performance this season and last, but the team’s owner strikes me a man of utmost integrity.

That’s been my impression as well. So, who’s our wonderboy?

You mean the driver?


I’ll get to that in just a moment. There’s one more thing I want you to see. Has the car finished the cool-down lap?

As we speak. The team assembled by the trackside wall; the mates exchanged handshakes and numerous high-fives. I had never seen the Pacific Rim boys so jubilant. The team had dropped out of more races than they had completed. Never a top-six finish, nor even a top-ten.

This is the part I want you to see.

The team appeared to be affixing something to the right sidepod. The vantage point changed from above the start/finish line to the racecar’s right side. The added bit was a camera. My television screen now showed a complete view of the cockpit. The driver’s gloved hands gripped the wheel. The resolution was amazing. I felt as if I were onboard the JC02.

We’re going to do this again?

Come on, Trev: wouldn’t you like to see what Laguna Seca looks like from the vantage point of a balls-out driver piloting a Formula One racecar?

Yes, but—

Well, fasten your shoulder harnesses, Ace.

I heard the throttle being mashed as the tires squealed. Tire smoke filled the screen and another lap began anew. A warm-up lap again, but one with great pace. The camera’s view was extraordinary. I studied the poised manner in which the driver’s fingers flicked the gearbox paddles located behind the steering wheel—right paddle for shifting up, left for shifting down. The horizontal bar graph tachometer was in plain view: the bar rushed the length of its small screen from the left side to the right edge before a quick, graceful touch of the right paddle sent the bar back to the left to renew its journey.

Because the tires were still warm from the last set of laps, the driver used only one warm-up lap. As the JC02 rounded the final turn to begin its flying-lap assault on the straight, the vehicle surged forward. The scenery that framed the track came rushing toward me like a high def video game. But this was no game: the racecar was traveling at 190 miles per hour as it lunged across the start/finish line to mark the beginning of its hot lap. As before, when the racecar approached Turn 2, I thought the vehicle could not possibly decelerate in time, but it did and again negotiated the corner in a swirly blur. The car powered through the next corner, a sweeping right-hander. The engine sounded lovely, the gearbox quick and precise. The JC02 traveled the circuit and approached the Corkscrew, where the car launched over the crest and headed for what appeared to be twinkling sunlight flashing through the oaks, before commencing a two second free fall that no amusement park ever could replicate.

Jamie ought to sell this tape, I said. There’s money to be made in videos that are capable of scaring the hell out of people.

No need. He’s got plenty. Did you set your watch on this one?

Completely forgot.

No matter. I can tell you that this lap was completed in 65.3 seconds, that is, a tad below the course record set a few moments ago by the same driver.

Amazing. But you’ve stumped me, Miles. Who is he?

The name is Hiromoro.

Spell it.



I believe so. Or Japanese American.

Right. First name?

Initial ‘D.’ That’s all I can give you now. As we speak, I’m having one of our research assistants review our databases to see what we have regarding the driver and to print out all our files on Pacific Rim Racing. And if it makes you feel any better, the researcher was no more delighted to come to work at five this morning than you were to be awakened a bit later. Anyway, we’re putting together a parcel that will be waiting for you at the gate at Heathrow."

Sorry? Did you just say Heathrow?

Yes, a rather large airport located six miles to the northwest of you.

I’m quite familiar with it, Miles. At times, too familiar.

Well, that’s the other reason I called. I know you thought you would enjoy a breather before traveling to Quebec, but your plans have changed, Ace. I need you in Northern California to cover this story. In fact, Jamie Cannon asked for you, personally.


"Yes. He called me yesterday. He said that RoadRocket can scoop the world—that’s right, the entire globe, Trevor—if we send you."

Why me?

He said that two years ago when he was assembling his team, you were the only one who took him seriously. He said your columns were balanced, unlike what the other media blokes were saying about him and his young team.

I just call them as I see them, Miles. Always have.

I know. That partially explains your longevity. But more specifically, he said you did not see the need to dwell upon the fact that he is an African American.

I just never saw the reason to make it such an issue the way the others did.

Well, this is his way of saying thank you: he is giving us an exclusive first interview with Hiromoro. Antonio will arrive on Sunday to take the photographs. On Monday morning, Jamie’s going to call a ‘press conference’—a rather generous description, actually. He plans to conduct the event at ten, one hour after it’s announced, virtually guaranteeing that you’ll be the only journalist in attendance. You see, he doesn’t want a genuine press conference; instead, he wants to ensure the exclusivity of our coverage.

Thoughtful of him.

This might be the scoop of the season. Your attendance at the press conference therefore is quite mandatory. Cannon is staging the event solely for our benefit. I know how you feel about these dog-and-pony shows, but you’ll be the team’s guest, so don’t screw it up.

I presume that Hiromoro has the superlicense he’ll need to compete in Formula One?

I didn’t ask. By the way, not to put a damper on an otherwise delightful conversation, but your flight leaves at seven.

This morning?

Correct. I’ve called you a cab. Cannon’s P.R. officer will meet you at the airport in San Francisco. She’s new; Parisian, I believe. Cheers.

I ejected the videotape and placed it in my kit as the taxi arrived.

The trip to the airport was brief. I ran to catch my flight, en route encountering Miles’s weary courier, who handed me a packet of clippings. He apologized for probably having missed a few.

2. Pacific Rim Racing

On my journey to Northern California, I reacquainted myself with Pacific Rim Racing, a team that had received little attention since the hoopla that surrounded its debut in 1998. Because Formula One races are contested most vigorously at the front of the grid—usually among the top three or four teams—the media focuses most of its attention there. The backmarkers such as Pacific Rim generally are neglected save for the occasional offseason feature.

I arranged my reporting in chronological order. First came the rumor column, published in October, 1996.

Cannon’s Latest Comeback?

by Trevor Banks

This week’s pit lane scuttlebutt is that retired American football star, Jamie Cannon, is weighing the possibility of fielding a Formula One team, perhaps as early as the 1998 season.

Several sources confirmed Cannon’s interest and indicated that he is well beyond the gee-whiz, wouldn’t this be fun stage so common among the whimsical utterances of retired superstars.

Indeed, the charismatic Cannon, still marvelously fit four years after leaving the National Football League (NFL), readily acknowledged his interest as indicated in this statement released by a spokesperson: As I have expanded my Cannon car dealerships across the United States, I have developed a strong interest in motorsport, not only for its relationship to the continuing improvement of roadgoing cars, but for the competitive arena that it provides. As many people know, I am a competitor. I am attracted to Formula One because it represents the ultimate in motorsport and the ultimate in competition. Team ownership is a natural next step for me.

Jamie Cannon’s remarks were not those of someone who simply had attended a few races as a VIP guest and enjoyed the exquisite hospitality of the Formula One Paddock Club. No, Cannon’s interest appears to run far deeper.

Fans of American professional football will recall that during his illustrious career as an NFL quarterback, Cannon amassed six Super Bowl championship rings in six attempts. During his fourteen seasons as a pro, he broke every major record for quarterbacks. His numerous last-minute heroics earned him the nickname,Mr. Comeback. Preserved in countless books and videos, his gridiron dramatics remain the stuff of modern sports legend.

In other words, Jamie Cannon knows something about blazing his own trail. But will it happen? Will Cannon Cars beget Cannon Racing?

Only time will tell. To assemble a Formula One team from scratch presents a formidable and expensive task. But the prediction from this humble scribe (a bit of an American football fan, himself, during motor racing’s dreary offseason), is that we are witnessing the first, formative steps of a champion’s determined return to the spotlight. The sport may be relatively new to him, but the process of overcoming whatever adversity may stand in his way is not.

Two months later, I reported that Cannon had signed a memorandum of understanding with Kimiko Engineering, a tiny but esteemed engine manufacturer based in Takamatsu, located on the Japanese island of Shikoku. The agreement specified that Kimiko (Japanese for peerless child) would develop Formula One engines for a team that Cannon would lead. Shortly thereafter, Cannon announced that he had obtained interim financing from an undisclosed institutional lender in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the space of a few months, he had harnessed both money and power. But still, he had no racecar and no team.

A key piece of the puzzle fell into place when Orion Chassis, a start-up company based in the Silicon Valley community of Mountain View, California, offered to build a racecar in exchange for prominent signage on the vehicle and in team literature. Cannon accepted the deal, giving Orion the coveted rear-wing placement for its company name.

Apricot, the San Francisco Bay Area counterculture computer giant (juicy apps without a lapse), offered at no cost all the computers, software, and other hi-tech gadgetry that the team needed, accompanied by one dozen eager and brilliant engineers on loan to the as-yet-unnamed team. In exchange, Cannon agreed to donate 10 percent of any profit that the team showed after two years to the Apricot network of charities, which benefited disadvantaged and seriously ill children. Cannon’s consummation of the deal led to much favorable publicity for both parties.

To continue building a Formula One team around the pieces he already had assembled, Cannon retained the highly regarded Max Cogman from a successful IndyCar enterprise. Cogman would serve as Crew Chief, charged with hiring and managing team personnel. The deal reportedly provided Cogman with a modest annual wage and 5 percent of the team’s profit after two years. Known in motorsport circles as Mole for his skill at burrowing into a racecar in search of trouble or added speed, Cogman was attracted by the challenge of building a team from the ground up while associating with an American sports legend.

Because one seemingly cannot start any legitimate enterprise in America without a lawyer, Cannon turned to his former teammate, Reynaldo Aquila, known in football circles as Flea in recognition of his prodigious leaping ability. The former wide receiver had studied law during football offseasons and earned his attorney’s license in California, rising to the level of junior partner in a San Francisco law firm. Cannon lured him back into the huddle the old-fashioned way: he tripled Aquila’s monthly pay packet while offering his former teammate the unfettered opportunity to reminisce about their glory days.

All this was accomplished within the space of four months. Then, in a move calculated to attract maximum publicity, Cannon conducted a press conference on the eve of the 1997 Formula One season to announce the formation of his new team, Pacific Rim Racing. I covered the event.

Cannon Fires First Volley Over F1’s Bow

by Trevor Banks

On an evening down under marked by fireworks and partying in anticipation of the inaugural race of the 1997 Formula One season, American football legend Jamie Cannon stole the show with a brief statement, officially announcing the birth of his motorsport team—to be called Pacific Rim Racing.

Standing alone on the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit’s winner’s podium in Albert Park, a spot that I hope our drivers will become familiar with next season, Cannon made it official: Pacific Rim Racing no longer represented just an aspiration, but a living, breathing enterprise, ready to challenge for the Formula One World Championship, beginning here in Melbourne in 1998.

The announcement culminated a frenzied, four-month period in which Cannon traveled the globe in search of the major players and components to make his team a viable one. Key among his acquisitions was the agreement of Kimiko Engineering, a small but highly regarded Japanese enterprise, to build Pacific Rim’s engines. Cannon forged relationships with Kimiko’s principals during annual forays to Japan, which in recent years has hosted preseason competitions waged by American football teams.

Kimiko Engineering is known for its successful experimentation with lightweight engine components that yield compact, high-revving powerplants. Now Kimiko has a chance to display its talent on Formula One’s global stage. A dream come true for any small engineering firm, Kimiko will be supplying its potent pocket rockets to the pros.

Jamie Cannon chose the name, Pacific Rim Racing, to reflect and celebrate the joining of multiple cultures that the Pacific Ocean connects, cultures that have as our common purpose the enhancement of a global community. Pacific Rim Racing will represent a unique partnership that seeks to win the world’s most prestigious professional sports championship—the Formula One racing series.

Orion Chassis of California will build the racecar. A small start-up company in the Silicon Valley mold, Orion will benefit greatly from the corporate largesse and technical support to be provided by Apricot, a principal sponsor of the Pacific Rim effort. The hi-tech giant, itself, was once a start-up company founded two decades ago in a loft above a Palo Alto, California frozen yogurt shop.

Look for the Pacific Rim racecar to be designed entirely by Apricot’s formidable computer wizardry, which should eliminate the need for expensive and time-consuming testing inside a wind tunnel. Design modifications that formerly required weeks of wind-tunnel work—considered state of the art only a few years ago—reportedly can be accomplished on Apricot’s computers within minutes. Critical analyses and three-dimensional sketches will be performed on-screen; the racecar promises to be a completely computer generated, paperless design.

Deviating from the more typical paradigm of a racing team created to enrich its wealthy owner, Cannon announced that all members of Pacific Rim Racing would be shareholders in team profits. I’m not entering Formula One to enhance my portfolio, Cannon explained. Let’s be realistic: I’ve done all right. I don’t need the money. Nor, as some people erroneously have suggested, am I trying to make a statement that is related to the fact that I am an African American. This is about the will to win, which—like my country’s Constitution—is color-blind.

When asked whether he planned to solicit the résumés of veteran or rookie drivers, Cannon demurred. I would be speaking prematurely if I commented on who will drive for us. My team will consider anyone who possesses the ability and the desire to win. But those individuals also must be willing to work without engaging in the trash talking and self-aggrandizement that is poisoning professional sports and alienating its fans.

With that, Jamie Cannon left the podium. On the eve of a new season, this handsome and congenial American succeeded in injecting great anticipation for the season that shall begin twelve months’ hence. The style and content of Cannon’s announcement reminded an often jaded sports world that men of dignity and leadership can still be found. Virtually any professional sport, including Formula One, would benefit from a dose of these attributes—characteristics that Cannon has exhibited throughout his career and quite noticeably in this, its latest and potentially most exciting chapter.

Toward the end of the 1997 season, observers spotted Pacific Rim Racing’s prototype, the JC01, running test laps at the team’s Northern California headquarters located at Sears Point Raceway. James Watson, a semi-retired American racecar driver, was at the wheel, extending a favor to the team by troubleshooting the car in anticipation that Cannon would reward him with a potentially lucrative new car dealership. Watson and Cannon, each a veteran of a more gentlemanly era in sport, completed the deal on a handshake.

During these initial sessions, however, the car was more than a disappointment; it was a mess. Although the engineers at Kimiko in theory had designed a crackerjack engine, in practice, the powerplant blew up repeatedly. For weeks, the Japanese and Silicon Valley contingents huddled over computer terminals to discover the flaw. The exercise consumed valuable weeks of development time, but helped forge the cooperative spirit that Cannon envisioned and encouraged.

By the time the team debugged the engine, the team’s computer assisted design group recommended rethinking the racecar in its entirety. Agreeing that attempting to make chicken salad out of chicken fertilizer was an unwise exercise, Cannon killed the JC01 and parked the vehicle in one of the oversized dens at his Sonoma estate. I don’t mind looking at my mistakes, he told reporters. They keep me hungry. And the JC01 makes an interesting conversation piece. The team focused its efforts on construction of the JC01X, the car that would compete in 1998.

The JC01X, however, possessed gremlins of its own. In testing, one gearbox after another failed after a few laps, which forced the team to abandon the unit’s American supplier and ultimately contract with Neutron, a Malaysian corporation that was emerging as a top manufacturer of racecar components. The transition delayed the car’s development. As late as January 1998, the team was uncertain whether the car would be ready to compete in the Australian Grand Prix in March. When the team fitted the new gearbox, it proved durable enough, but engaged hundredths of a second too slowly, compromising the engine’s prodigious straight-line speed.

Despite these growing pains, in February 1998, Pacific Rim Racing unveiled its car to the world, flanked by the drivers Jamie had selected to pilot it: Dominick Leighton, the wry English veteran, and Jean-Christophe Laurent, a young French driver who had performed well in Europe. My account of the unveiling, accompanied by the drivers’ profiles, applauded the team for scaling the steep learning curve. I also noted that the racecar’s developmental glitches meant that the team was unlikely to be competitive anytime soon.

Most other accounts were not as charitable. A few were downright nasty. One such piece, published in the UK by one of RoadRocket’s tackier competitors, RacePace, summarized the antagonism that greeted Pacific Rim Racing’s entrance into Formula One.

Will Pacific Rim Sink In Australia?

by Lambourne Navestock

Pacific Rim Racing, that quaint little Yankee sideshow, made it official this

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