Harris Irfan. UAE GT100. Driver Diary

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“Things are falling in your favour. Dunlop have 3pcs of front tyres left in the size for our cup cars & the RS. We need 14 for a weekend and they may not have new stock by Friday in which case i will have to switch sizes and change the setup for different tyres!”A text message on Monday night before round 7 of the UAE GT Championship from GTB championship leader and arch hustler Paul Denby. No doubt he will call me before testing and tell me his neck is in a brace and someone’s nicked his hubcaps. Pfff. I’ve heard it all before. You won’t fool me so easily, Denby.

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Oh, there’s something I never told you, dear reader, about my lustrous cobalt blue Porsche. It first caught my attention seven years ago at a U-turn on the Wasl Road, the heavy right foot of its first owner married to a tight new diff flaring up the rears and pirouetting the car quite deliberately, before sprinting up the road like its tail was on fire. The smell of vapourised PS2s and its signature mechanical induction scream burnt into my brain and I vowed that it would be mine (and indeed a year later I was in the Porsche dealership slobbering over the same car).

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I didn’t know it at the time, but the man behind the wheel was a certain Paul Denby Esquire whose name still appears on the original logbook. He was reacquainted with his steed in the ARM workshop some years later after it took a prang in the inaugural Open Saloon Series of 2007/8. It’s evolved somewhat over time, of course, courtesy of a radical diet and some cutting edge surgery, but it still has the soul of a road car and some days I wonder if it wouldn’t mind retiring and settling down again with a nice integrale in my garage at home.

Last time out, I wrote about the joy of racing. This weekend is all about the frustration of racing – when things don’t go quite your way, and your arch nemesis knocks you out, nails down your coffin and buries you with a sneer. Ironically my own beloved and very unglamorous Wolverhampton Wanderers have just had a very similar weekend, against the mighty Arsenal, succumbing to a 93rd minute winner when they thought it was in the bag, and leaving them ruing their perennial also-ran status. I bet Mick McCarthy is as sick as a dog. I know how he feels.

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Testing day arrives and the omens are good: on old tyres I manage to extract quicker times than Paul on his fresh tyres, and elect not to change the set up perfected in the last round on the International Circuit.

There are two pieces of good news and one bad today. First the bad: one of the AUH Racing Aston Martins has been crashed by a team driver in testing and the car will unfortunately have to sit out tomorrow’s race. The good: Kuwaiti racer Khaled al Mudhaf is turning out some impressive lap times in his Gulfsport Ginetta – Paul and I will need to keep an eye on him during the race, but it’s heartening to see his rapid ascent up the learning curve. And DXB Racing are wetting the head of their new baby: Frederic Gaillard’s exquisite Lotus Exige Cup, all 826kg of its bijou deliciousness wrapped up in lip-smacking British Racing Green and Lotus stripes. First prize in the beauty contest without a doubt, but can it trade blows with its more muscular class mates?

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GTA champ Karim Al Azhari and the boys from TAM are gathered conspiratorially outside the pit garages as testing ends. Karim informs me that Paul has been given a 10 second “equalisation penalty”, in other words an extra 10 seconds in the pitlane in order to force a closer finish in GTB class. There are arguments for and against the practice of equalisation, but despite being the recipient of this beneficent act of the stewards, I can’t help but feel they’re handing me victory on a plate. After all, it’s not as if Paul and I haven’t consistently traded places and scrapped for P1 the entire season, albeit with Paul coming out on top four races in a row.

Hmm. Four races in a row. Come to think of it, that is rather a lot. Embarrassing actually. Surely I should have been able to steal one or two races away from him? Well, anyway, let’s not dwell on it. Paul is understandably miffed with the penalty and lodges an official protest but is rebuffed, so it’s time for both of us to concentrate on the task at hand.

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Quali is the start of my frustrations. To put it bluntly, some of the driving from the GTA boys has been uncharacteristically selfish this morning, with unnecessary blocking on slow down laps or accelerating out of the pits onto the racing line. As a result, I need 10 tortuous laps in order to extract one meaningful time. Not good on the tyres and I can only hope I haven’t heat cycled them too many times. Come on lads, please check those mirrors occasionally.

Indeed I spend 30 frantic seconds during a fuel stop in quali flailing my arms around like a demented Karachi taxi driver to force one of my ARM colleagues to move out the way and let me back out there. Clearly the frustration has got to me.

The one second I am adrift from Paul in quali is also a second down on testing yesterday (ironically on old tyres), so I am really rather upset. No matter, I’m a row behind Paul on the grid and will just aim to get the jump on Khaled’s Ginetta to steal P2 at the start. Easy peasy.


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