A1 Team South Africa shows fighting spirit Adrian Zaugg and Vulindlela, flying the flag for South Africa, may not have won the race but they won the hearts of the thousands of South Africans packed into the grandstands in the streets of Durban last weekend for the eighth round of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport.
The weather was hot, the racing was hot and the competition was so heated that an incident on the very first lap of the 50 lap feature race saw A1 Team South Africa compromised before the race had even gathered momentum.
Dropping from seventh on the grid to 19th behind the safety car on lap two following an incident that he had no part in, Zaugg had his work cut out to make an impression on the 18 nations ahead of him. The safety car came into the pits at the end of lap three and the race was underway again.
But lady luck was not with A1 Team South Africa this day. An over-ambitious move (suicidal, some might say) by Indonesian driver Ananda Mikola, who took a non-existent gap down the inside of Vulindlela into turn one, saw both cars severely damaged. The Team Indonesia car was out of the race on the spot and Zaugg limped back to the pits with a crippled Vulindlela.
That was it. Over. Huge disappointment for the fans and the South African team.
However, it was not over. A1 Team South Africa CEO Dana Cooper crossed from the pit wall to the South African pit and spoke to team manager Mike Carroll and the DAMS engineering team that looks after Vulindlela. Can you fix the car? Please do your best. We owe it to the fans.
What followed was a fine example of what team owner Tokyo Sexwale referred to as pure South African fighting spirit. “South Africans don’t give up. We know how to fight. What the DAMS mechanics and engineers did after Adrian Zaugg and Vulindlela limped into the pits, to all intents and purposes down and out, was little short of heroic.
The team immediately put into place an ambitious recovery plan, right in the middle of what looked like a disaster.
“I am extremely proud of our team, the managers, the mechanics and the driver,” said Sexwale. “Once the decision was made to rejoin the race, they set to with a will and passion that was an example to everyone. We had to get permission from the race organizers to rejoin the race. When this was forthcoming the team swung into gear. They showed great commitment and energy to get Vulindlela and Adrian back into the race.
“Once he was back in the race, Adrian proved to be a winner as he was when he took the checkered flag first in the Netherlands in the opening round of the current series in October last year.
“The roar of the crowd when he emerged from the pits with just five minutes of the race left to run on lap 45 was music to the team’s ears. The South African fans were saluting their hero and showing their appreciation of a team that had not forgotten them.
“It was an emotional moment,” said Sexwale.
The decision to repair the car and return Zaugg to the race was primarily to thank the thousands of South African’s in the crowd for their support of A1 Team South Africa. “After paying their hard-earned money for a ticket to watch their car and driver compete against the other 22 nations contesting the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport, the very least we could have done was to try and get Adrian back out on the track,” said A1 South Africa team manager Mike Carroll.
“Bruno Corbe, our race engineer, Sebastien Frere, the chief mechanic, and Eric Bouillier, managing director of DAMS, were all involved with me in the decision to go ahead and fix the damaged car once we had ascertained that there did not appear to be any major structural damage.
“We knew the fans would be very disappointed, just as we were, following the two incidents that saw A1 Team South Africa’s chances of success in the feature race evaporate so suddenly.
There were other benefits getting Vulindlela fixed and running again, said Carroll. “We needed to give Adrian as much seat time as possible after his forced sabbatical from motor racing following his successful arm surgery in December. We also wanted to confirm that Vulindlela was fit to race in the next round in Mexico on March 25.
“The few extra laps we managed at the end of the race gave our sponsors a little more exposure,” added Carroll. “And, of course, it was a chance for Adrian and the team to show what he and Vulindlela were capable of and what might have been had we not had our race curtailed by the two incidents.
“The fact that Adrian set the fastest time of the feature race in those final laps was a morale booster for the team and nearly earned us a bonus championship point for fastest time of the day. While Germany earned the extra point for fastest time of the day set in the sprint race, we probably would have succeeded had we used the set of new tires we would normally have fitted during the compulsory pit stop.
“However, we felt it more important to keep this set for the rookie practice session in Mexico.
“The decision to go ahead and repair Vulindlela was made as soon as we ascertained the extent of the damage and saw that there was no major structural damage,” said Carroll.
“The turnaround time – 40 laps of the race elapsed between the time Vulindlela entered the pits until Adrian rejoined the race – was substantial because of the amount of work the mechanics had to do.
“They had to remove the damaged bodywork and replace it with the bodywork on the spare car. This was not a simple job as the floor of the race car was also damaged.
“Probably the most time consuming job was replacing the damaged oil line. One of the fittings suffered a damaged thread and took some time to loosen. Then it had to be replaced with the oil line and all attendant wiring and plumbing from the spare car. The oil system had to be refilled to the correct level while running the engine and the Zytek engineers were on hand to monitor the engine and oil pressure.
“Once the car was had been structurally scrutinized to be sure it was safe to send Adrian out again – this included visual inspection of the tub, engine block, transmission casing, suspension links, brake lines and a comprehensive nut and bolt check on all critical components – fuel was pumped out for the reduced number of laps run and the ride height was adjusted to compensate for the reduced fuel load,” said Carroll.
When Zaugg and Vulindlela rejoined the race, it was already into the 45th of the scheduled 50 laps. As it turned out, the 70-minute limit for the race coincided with the 49th lap, but not before the 20-year-old South African had recorded the fastest lap of the race on the very last lap. Vulindlela was one of only 10 cars still circulating and was classified 17th, 38 laps behind the winning car of A1 Team Germany.
It was a small but significant achievement. Much better than simply accepting defeat and watching the rest of the race from the pit wall.