Wakening in Catalunya

Barcelona. We are driving on a chilly morning, on December 13, 2011. It is seven o’clock. The first rays of the sun appear on the horizon, and we are satisfied because the forecasts were correct – no rain. On the ramp, the porter asks us in Spanish: Where are you going? We respond in English: To Formula 2 testing. We are the Radola motor-sport team! Okay! – the porter replies and lets us go to the Circuit de Catalunya.

Yes, it is the famous Formula 1 track that most of us have only watched on TV until now. The trackway on which Schumacher celebrated six times, Prost three, and Senna twice. We are practically the first to arrive for testing this morning. We go to the pits and look at the cars parked like on an even keel. Sasha is impatient. Out of excitement, he did not close his eyes all night. But nervousness is also present – What if I fail?
Sasha Radola is the son of our famous racing driver Ellio Radola. He is young, 22 years old, but among other things, he already has the title of the youngest Croatian automotive champion behind him. At just 18, he won it for the first time in mountain races in class N3 and N, and a year later repeated it in class N3, while in class N, he was second. He also drove part of the 2009 season in Formula Renault UK, in their pretty strong British Championship, in which Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, and many other F1 stars also drove at the beginning of their careers. And then, in his first season, Sasha managed to reach the podium in one race. And as the only driver with no previous experience in any formula car. A miracle, some of our daily media would say today, but not because they were actively following him then, as we did at the time when Pleasure magazine was only emerging, but so that they could sell their newspapers better with sensationalism. And then it was a miracle how practically, without training, he managed to reach that third place. And these sensationalists have no idea what kind of sacrifices Sasha lived with then, alone in a foreign country, without school friends, without car, almost without money. With the only goal – to drive as many races as possible and gather experience. Each euro, invested in the price, was that he could be able to drive Championship at all, up until the people who believed in it ran out of funding, from people who believed in him then, and still do now but want to remain anonymous. And then there was nothing left but to pack his bags and return home to Pula. Already seen and typical in our country, only snails could envy the quick reactions of our sponsors and state institutions. After all, let us remember Ivica and Janica Kostelic, ski champions, and their beginnings. All our talents have to go through the same crossroads. Only when they succeed, miraculously, all the great sponsors then suddenly wake up and want to be their support. Instead of competing to be the first to discover and support talent, and then, when they succeed in such a praiseworthy project, to be proud and, of course, return the effort and money invested. However, in our country, everything works on some other principles, which can discourage even the most positive ones.

Yes, it is the famous Formula 1 track that most of us have only watched on TV until now. The trackway on which Schumacher celebrated six times, Prost three, and Senna twice.

But let us go of Croatian psychology and the past in general and go back to the present, to Catalunya. In a Formula 2 car, on which engineers make the final adjustments before starting tests. They had already made a seat, according to Sasha’s measurements, the night before, and now they are just fine-tuning it. F2 Chief Engineer James Goodfield greets us and expresses satisfaction that he sees us and that Sasha is there. After all, we know each other from England. He was also his engineer in the previously mentioned Renault Formula. And there are only words of praise for Sasha, as well as Sasha for James. They get along with each other well back then in England. It will be 9 a.m. soon, the time of the first going out on the track. Sasha gets in a driver suit, puts on gloves and a helmet. Final preparations and stretching before sitting in the firm but comfortable car seat. Mladen Jergovic, the only Croatian expert of F1 inside, and therefore part of our, more precisely, Sasha’s F2 team, gives Sasha instructions on how to drive. Of course, not the driving ones, because Sasha knows that well, but the psychological ones, not to be burdened by times in a round, to enjoy driving and getting to know this powerful 500 hp car as well as possible. During this time, the rest of us check if the sponsor stickers are in place on the car and if our photo and video equipment are ready to capture these historic moments.

“Man, this is crazy! For the first time in my life, I feel like I am driving something big, the real thing!” – Sasha Radola

This rest of us refers to Denis Peloza, director of Auto SL 91, which is in the HAK (Croatian car club) system of Autoclub Pula-Rovinj, a person who has been following Sasha and his racing for a long time. With a disability that is hard to deal with, but still has not stopped him from coming to Barcelona and helping on the spot around everything he can. The second part of this rest of us makes an F1 fan and the author of this article, my humble self, here as a photographer, cameraman, journalist, but also the owner of Pleasure magazine, which is a sponsor of Sasha’s F2 team. The third, but not the least important man of the others, unfortunately, did not even arrive in Barcelona due to illness. At the last minute, he had to give up the trip and stay in Pula. And that is Darko Spelic, the owner of the company Prestige, which produces the well-known air fresheners Shake, and in this case, Sasha’s sponsor. He has also been following him at competitions for years and, like the rest of us, knows that Sasha is capable of significant results. But this first test will show us how right we are. And that test is just starting. The engines start, the pits hum, the cars start to come out towards the track with a noisy but relatively moderate mumbling.

They come to the exit line, and then – roar. The screaming cars disappear into the distance at high speed, and after a few seconds, with flaming tongues from the exhaust pipes, they are already braking in the first turn, a few hundred meters away. Sitting in the car, Sasha receives the latest instructions from his mechanic Simon and other engineers. Despite a well-intentioned warning that his car will surely turn off at first, and due to inexperience, at least a few times, Sasha, to their amazement, starts without any problems and a few moments later is already running on the track at speeds higher than 280 km/h. And so it goes on with several planned boxing entries to change tires, for a full hour, as long as each of the eight tests it will take in these two days lasts.

Sasha, to their amazement, starts without any problems and a few moments later is already running on the track at speeds higher than 280 km/h. – (F2 ing. reaction)

We greeted Sasha in the pits after the first hour of driving, and after he seemingly cold-blooded got out of the car, his first words were: Man, this is crazy! For the first time in my life, I feel like I am driving something big, the real thing! And he adds – thanks to computer games, without them, this would be incredibly difficult. It was with the help of these F1 and rFactor games on his handmade simulator that he trained day and night for these tests in Barcelona. This first test was followed by conversations with engineers, analysis of driving via telemetry and video from cameras mounted on the formula, and then minor adjustments to the car. And then all over again.

There is still to drive seven hours in these two days, and a total of about 600 km. Which is not physically easy at all because driving a severe formula such as F2, withstanding strong G forces in corners, and repeatedly driving at the upper-speed limit with the risk of crashing, requires a lot of strength, fitness in general but also psychological stability. That is why Sasha feels every muscle in his arms and neck after these first hours. However, that did not stop him from doing the tests to the end because the adrenaline still beats the pain. True, there were a couple of trips from the track and one nose of the car in those two days, which Sasha partially redesigned with the help of the wall in the third, very fast turn, but that is also common for F1 drivers.

And the leading people of F2? First of all, they are immensely satisfied with Sasha’s coolness and test results. But they are also pleased with the professionalism with which we presented ourselves in Barcelona as the Radola motor-sport team. – (F2 chief ing. comment)

Because in the formula, there is an extremely tiny boundary between a perfectly driven curve and one when the wall serves as a brake. It also should be emphasized that with his best time in one session, he managed to place 13th out of 18 drivers. Such is great, because as the only driver present that has never driven in Barcelona, as well as the fact that he has at least four times less experience in a car of any formula than the most inexperienced opponent on the track. The best ones have accumulated up to six years of driving in various formula classes. In support of this great success is also the fact that the Boost option, which allows the driver an additional 70 hp at the touch of a button on the steering wheel, Sasha did not even use due to inexperience in F2, and this option brings up to two seconds per lap. Then we concluded with a simple calculation that only with that help, as Sasha himself says, as from the movie Fast and Furious, he could set the time that would raise him in the ranking of drivers even to the fifth or sixth place. And that sounds great.

In the meantime, while Sasha was doing his job, the rest of us from his team did ours and accompanied it all with photos, watched other drivers drive, and prepare, patiently followed the time they achieved in laps on the wall in the box. Also, talked to the leaders of F2, owner Jonathan Palmer (who is Bernie Ecclestone for F2) and director-coordinator James Gornall, about many things, including the upcoming F2 season of 2012. And we agreed on one highly important thing for all future Croatian sponsors, but certainly also for motoring enthusiasts. If we raise the necessary money for Sasha and this upcoming season, we will watch F2 live on TV screens in Croatia. The races are officially broadcast by MotorsTV, but it would be very nice to watch our driver on domestic television, and maybe open, or at least ease, the way in F2 for some of our future talented young drivers. However, the only thing that matters at this point is to secure funds for Sasha and his first F2 season. In fact, in Croatian terms, the amount is not small, but a little more than 400 thousand euros (320 thousand is the price of driving without training and other related costs) is not much in the world of motoring, especially in such a strong class as Formula 2. Not to mention the additional great promotion of Croatia through foreign TV broadcasts.

And what to say after this joint adventure called Catalunya? Everyone is happy! Sasha with high experience and brilliant impressions from the track, and we, with ease with which Sasha fit in among other fast guys who have immeasurably more experience. We are immensely pleased with the people from F2 – the English and their already known kindness, as well as the superbly organized competition. And the leading people of F2? First of all, they are immensely satisfied with Sasha’s coolness and test results. But they are also pleased with the professionalism with which we presented ourselves in Barcelona as the Radola motor-sport team (from our team jackets and hats to the fact that we were the first to come to the track in the morning and last leaving it at night). They want to watch him in their cars next season, so they wrote a letter of recommendation addressed to all potential future sponsors. We have laid a good foundation for success, so we expect our big sponsors to recognize what we “little ones” like Shake, Auto SL 91, or Pleasure already see and do concerning our financial power as much as we have done so far. Then we will all, of course, with a lot of work and effort, become part of one possible fairy tale, which can have a happy ending!

TEXT & PHOTO – Robert Blaskovich

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Sasha Radola – Formula 2 in Barcelona…