• Published 8th Oct 2015
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Conquering the Mountain - johnnosk

How did a pony get into the pit crew?

  • ...

Friday October 10, 2014. Part III

Conquering the Mountain
Friday October 10, 2014
Part III

Pit lane was, once again, a hive of activity. Hours after the day of racing and qualifying had ended, a swarm descended on Pit Lane for, once again, it was time for the two hours of madness that was Friday Night Live!

At the exit of Pit Lane on a raised platform, there were lights, cameras and all the trappings of a studio with only a short barrier and the politeness of the crowd separating the masses from the presenters.

At the opposite end where the crowd was much thinner, Twilight was watching the show unfold as she and the majority of the Erebus crew were impatiently waiting for Len to hurry up with the Barbeque.

As with seemingly all things in Australia, the Barbeque had its own strange ritual and ceremony attached to it. In this case, the most physically domineering male prepared and cooked the meat while others waited nearby with varying levels of patience. Twilight suspected that it was a throwback to a far simpler time when people gathered around a fire to socialise over a meal. It was either that, or Len liked playing with fire and sharp pointy pieces of metal.

In any case, flavoursome sausages were merrily cooking on one side of the barbeque’s hotplate, while on the other side were the more pony friendly and vegetable based imitations of the typical Australian Barbecue fare.

It was at this point that Twilight was introduced to what she would later write in her memoirs as the ‘Great Australian Social Event’, better known as a ‘Sausage Sizzle’. In essence, the concept was unsurprisingly simple, cook a sausage on the barbeque, serve on a piece of plain bread and add sauce to taste. All across Australia and New Zealand, schools, sporting clubs and charities had used the Sausage Sizzle as a cheap, easy and non-offensive way to raise funds.

Like most sausage sizzles, Erebus had also made sure that there was onion fresh from the hotplate as well as bacon and grated cheese so that people could mix and match to their own personal preference. During Len’s tenure as the ‘Master of the Grill’, someone started tossing gold coins into an empty stubbie holder, even as no payment was asked nor expected, it would seem that one lucky charity would receive a boon come Monday.

Twilight was content to eat one of her ‘Veggie’ snags, as Len put it, albeit with more ‘colourful’ language, with onion as she watched fans mingle with Erebus crew members while the television was broadcasting the show from the other end of Pit Lane, even if it was delayed by a few seconds.

Joining Twilight in the Erebus garage was Fancy Pants, the normally calm and unflappable Canterlot gentlecolt was in the midst of excitedly telling Twilight about that day's practice and qualifying sessions that he witnessed from his campsite at McPhillamy Park while he too was enjoying a sausage of his own.

“Such noise,” he said, “I could feel it in every fiber of my being and the excitement was like honey on my tongue. I haven’t felt this young in years!”

“So I see,” said Twilight. The signs were there to see, Fancy Pant’s normally immaculately groomed mane and moustache were being worn in a more relaxed style more fitting to a dapper youth than a sophisticated member of the Canterlot elite and his choice of clothing was far more casual than the typical waistcoat and blazer that he was associated with.

“Please, do not wear yourself out,” continued Twilight, “There is still the Top Ten Shootout tomorrow as well as the support races.”

“No need to worry, Princess,” said Fancy Pants “I may not look it, but I am no stranger to long and energetic events.”

Twilight had no doubt about the stamina of Fancy Pants, under ancient Equestrian tradition, business dealings were hashed out in a single sitting and while that tradition had waned over the years, there were still some of the old elite that would only do business in such a manner.

“Fancy Pants, where is Fleur?” asked Twilight, “Is she at the GRM garage?”

“Indeed she is, I believe that she is helping Mr Rogers with his outfit for the evening.”

Twilight nodded and divided her attention between preparing some more of her veggie sausages for herself and Fancy Pants and watched the live entertainment that was being presented on the television.

On the screen, the presenters had segued from a brief discussion about that day's qualifying to a scavenger hunt at McPhillamy Park. Quietly munching on her snack, she watched Larkham talk about the first event of the evening, the Eskey challenge.

In the interim between the end of the day and the setting up for the evening, various crew members from the competing teams had set up a simple course for the three competitors consisting of a narrow chicane and a series of tire pillars that they had to maneuver around before reaching the end of the course before switching drivers for the return journey. As there were four people in each team and each run had to have a separate driver, the opportunity to ‘trade paint’ would present itself several times.

Coming back from the commercial, Neil Crompton began the segment from the presenters desk, “Welcome back to Friday Night Live, we promised you a little bit of Friday night fun. We talked before and heard from Larko about this ‘Esky Challenge’, Riana is down there… Esky Challenge, C’mon. What’s it all about?”

Riana Crehan had been working with Mark Larkham as a second pit reporter for a almost 7 years as well as adding colour commentary to the pre-race telecast. Being a former model and V8 pit girl, she was a familiar face to many of the drivers and was often given the task of interviewing them after a serious incident when they returned to the pits.

“Neil, do not diss the esky challenge because this is going to be epic!” she began. She was standing in front of the three constructions, each still covered, waiting to be revealed. “These teams, the strategy meetings that have been going on have been bigger and better than what the qualifying meeting were this afternoon.”

Crehan turned towards the Erebus team for the first of the close ups and to Holdsworth for his time in the comedic spotlight. “Erebus Motorsport, Lee Holdsworth, you are representing your team,” Crehan said as she pointed to the covered contraption, “Now we need to reveal what you guys have under the blankets here, you have been working on this for months. Way before talks about Bathurst were going on, reveal your esky please.”

With a flourish, the cover was removed and revealed the racer that Twilight and Klimenko had constructed that morning. “Yeah, look at this,” said a beaming Holdsworth, who was loving every second of his airtime, “We win the presentation award, that’s for sure. I’m a little bit worried that we don’t have the safety cell in here for this one cause I reckon there’s going to be a nasty shunt at turn one!”

Holdsworths comments got a chuckle from the audience as Crehan steered the interview back toward the features of the esky kart. “That steering wheel, that is absolutely fantastic and you guys will be competing against Nissan.”

Turning to the second team at the start line, Crehan pointed to the three Nissan crew members and their cart, which was still covered. “Nissan Motorsport, I can’t see the driver, but we need to get the reveal underway.”

The Nissan crew smiled and helpfully assisted Crehan in removing the cover to reveal the 4th member of the Nissan team for the Esky Challenge. “He’s already on board!” she cried out, trying to hold back her laughter as Michael Caruso struck a familiar pose from inside of the commercial sized esky that was the core of the Nissan entry.

The esky cart itself was the standard base white that was common to most commercial sized eskies, what the Nissan team had done was to add numbering and decals that made it look like it was part of the official Nissan team and not a side project.

“Reminiscent of Usain Bolt, Michael Caruso,” began Crehan, a subtle reminder to both the assembled audience and the viewers watching live on television who would rarely see a particular driver outside of a painted helmet.

“Now Michael, because you’re so small, you can actually fit inside the esky, this is great!”

The crowd had a small chuckle at Caruso’s expense “Rehana!” exclaimed Caruso as he gestured to the esky cart, “Look at the size, it’s perfect. Look at the machinery and the workmanship that has gone into this. I reckon that if we spent this much time on our cars, we’d go a little bit quicker!”

That statement, made in jest, had the expected reaction from the crowd and left Crehan struggling to maintain her composure as Caruso continued speaking. “We’ve got this in the bag.”

Crehan cut him off before he could make another witticism by getting in a good natured rub, “I think you should shut up before you lose your job!” she said with a laugh before hurrying to the final entrant of the event.

“Now you guys are going up against Paul Morris. Now Paul, you’ve got a secret weapon on board?” asked Crehan as she interviewed the man in question as one of the non-participating FPR crew members lifted the cover from the front of the cart to slyly show the camera a can of a minor sponsor’s product.

“Our secret weapon is the driver,” replied Morris, “It’s all about power to weight ratio.”

With a flourish, the cover was removed to reveal the youngest driver of the competitors, eleven year old Nash Morris to the surprise of Crehan and the spectators, but Crehan noticed that something was amiss.

“Ah, Paul. The esky,” began Crehan as she scanned the other two teams and their larger sized eskys incorporated into the carts.

“Yeah, I’ve read the rule book and it said a ‘Commercially available esky’ and a steering wheel, it’s got all that.” Morris replied, a tad smugly

“Of course, someone would have to really interpret the rule book and it would have to be Paul Morris!” Crehan was resigned to the fact that Morris had somehow managed another creative interpretation of the rules to try to gain an edge.

“We need to know exactly how this challenge is going to work so we need to get through the rules.” Crehan signed off on her part of the challenge and the role was taken over by Mark Larkham.

“Okay, rules are gonna be,” started Larkham as he pointed behind himself to the solid white line where the three carts were lined up , “You can see behind each of the esky carts there are four people in total, one driver and three pushers,”

Larkham started to walk along the course and continued his explanation of the rules to the camera and the audience watching on the network, “Now they’re going to push along here and what we’ve got here is a chicane,”

Pointing to the narrow chicane, Larkham continued “Now I reckon this is where the action is going to happen because I just stepped it out. I measured the axel across the three carts, we thought that three won’t fit through here, I can tell you, two won’t fit through here, it’s going to be quite spectacular!”

Taking a quick breath, Larkham returned to his explanation as he pointed to two pairs of tire stacks, “Down here, they have to go around the tires, around the other tires and see that white line down the bottom there? they have to stop, swap drivers, come back and do it again.”

“You go up, back, up and back to determine our winner. Now we’ve got a starter down there, Mark Beretta.”

Taking his cue from Larkham, Beretta kept up the jovial nature of the event as he took over the commentary for Larkham. “Larko, enough talk. Gentlemen, mount your carts!”

Seeing that both the Erebus and Nissan team were starting with professional drivers, Morris made a quick decision to replace his son just before Bretta started the event. Off the line first, and possibly before the ‘official’ start, was Erebus who narrowly beat Nissan into the chicane and through the tire obstacles.

The magic that Twilight had imparted on the cart was in full effect when it came to the driver change at the end of the course, working in combination with the open design of the cart, swapping out the driver was quick and uncomplicated and Erebus soon had a steadily growing lead.

Within the tight confines of the starting area, Erebus was once again able to turn Twilight’s modifications to their advantage by turning the cart around faster and swapping out drivers quicker for the third leg. As they left the area, they almost collided with the Nissan entry who were putting in a valiant effort not to come last.

With nothing but clear air ahead of them, Erebus were able to make it to the end of the course and make the driver swap for the final leg and were able to coast back to the start line for an easy victory with FPR taking second place and Nissan wagging the tail for third. In just over a minute of madness, the event was over and Crehan was getting soundbites from Erebus.

“Congratulations, Erebus Motorsport, Lee Holdsworth. They haven’t got Champagne but they’ve got-” Too late Crehan realised that Erebus were using the same sponsor drinks that had started the race in the FPR cart to celebrate the end of a race getting her, the other teams and a few members of the crowd wet from the spray.

“Lee, is this one of the best wins of your career?” Crehan continued after briefly ensuring that the spraying had stopped.

“Certainly might be the only win this weekend at the moment!” Holdsworth replied to the laughter of the crowd, “The thing was handling pretty well up on two wheels there, a bit like Fab’s car today.”

Ignoring the gentle dig at Fabian Coulthard's driving style, Crehan began finishing up the segment. “Congratulations Lee, and enjoy. We’ve got some Coopers Beer for you, don’t drink it today, but maybe on Sunday afternoon!”

While the show segued back to the desk at the exit of Pit Lane, Twilight was in a state of palpable excitement. “Yes, yes, yes! It worked, the spells worked!” she said as she bounced around the garage.

“Quite right,” said Fancy Pants, “and now we have another task ahead of us.”

This put an understandable dampener on Twilight’s enthusiasm, “What needs to be done?” she asked.

“Somepony has to chill the team's winnings!”

While the festive atmosphere continued with a small but steady stream of visitors from the audience passing through the garage, and while many supported other marquees, there was a fair number of Mercedes supporters who were making their presence felt. Twilight even saw a few business cards being exchanged between some of the more senior members of the Erebus staff and a few young hopefuls trying to break into the more technical side of Australian motorsport.

It did not take long before Larkham had his verbal sparring partner, Russell Ingall on a lie detector and was mercilessly grilling the older driver about incidents in their shared past, whether or not he considered himself a good actor and if he still considered himself a ‘Romantic’ at heart.

As questions concluded and the segment ended, the camera switched back to the desk. Sitting with the host, Neil Crompton, were the ‘Greybeards’ of the current era of Australian Motorsport. Stephen Richards and Greg Murphy sat on Crompton’s right while Craig Lowndes and Crompton’s fellow commentator Mark Skaife sat on the left.

Each current and former driver had a few humorous digs to level at ‘The Enforcer’, with the choicest coming from Skaife. “How can you trust a bloke that self-titles himself?” he said to the laughter of the panel who laughed along at the comment, “You give yourself your own nickname, ‘The Enforcer’“ Skaife continued as the panel began to lose all sense of composure and break out into fits of mirth.

Trying to keep the show moving, Crompton crossed to Larkham who was behind the garages and near the Transporters for a follow up on what had been a years long pranking war between the two.

“Yeah, well I reckon that we’ll have some words, there’s no question about that,“said Larkham as he gestured in the area locally known as ‘Transporter Row’ “And so true to form, look there are Winnebagos and beautifully equipped transporters and didn’t I say, he’s being carting poor old Jules around in a caravan!”

The camera followed Larkham as he approached the Ingalls temporary residence to knock on the door of what Larkham described in his own colourful way as ‘The worst bit of kit on Pit Lane’.

From her vantage point safely away at the other end of Pit Lane, Twilight saw Larkham enter the same caravan where she had eaten earlier in the day with the Ingall family. With a greeting to Julia and a quick shake of the hand to Russell the conversation started on how Ingall did on the lie detector.

“That was a lot of fun and good TV,” Larkham began, “a lot of questions didn’t go to air, as you know, you’re the only bloke that we know that can actually lie to a lie detector!”

“How many people have actually fooled a lie detector?” asked Ingall, albeit a little rhetorically

“Well, we’ve been trying to flush out your age for a while, Jules up the back is the only one that actually does know, I don’t reckon you’re a day over 38.” continued Larkham as a way of swinging into the ‘Meat and potatoes’ of the interview.

“Something smells good, I know I was a little tough on you last year with the dinner you were knocking up, or in that case, the dinner Jules was knocking up because we all know that you’re punching above your weight on that one!” Larkham somehow managed to both compliment Julia while getting a dig in on Russell to the amusement of the panel, “I’m over the moon that you’ve invited me over for dinner.”

“Well last time, you said our food tasted like dog food,” replied Ingal, “The kids were really upset because they think that we make some of the best Spaghetti Bolognese, they’re that upset, they aren’t even here!”

Twilight could hear the Ingalls two daughters laughing in their father's garage. Personally, she thought that the caravan where she had eaten lunch with the Ingall clan had a comfortable feel about it, like when her old saddlebags had lost their stiffness and began to fit more comfortably against her sides.

Ingall led Larkham to the small stovetop where the night's meal was gently simmering away. “This is a friday night Bathurst ritual, we’d have Spaghetti Bolognese” explained Ingall as he dipped a spoon into the Bolognese mix, “Ya gotta try this!”

Not one to miss out on either free food or self promotion, Larkham gingerly ate the offered spoonful, after a few seconds of chewing and savouring the flavour, as no two home made Bolognese are the same, Ingall asked the ultimate question.

“And?” he questioned, “You’re on the lie detector.”

“It’s not bad,” Larkham admitted as he took a second spoonful, “It’s good. It’s quite good!”

Ingall smiled at Larkhams praise, “Finally, do you want to know the special ingredient?”

With the camera tracking Ingall as he moved about his kitchen, The Enforcer opened the small bar style fridge to reveal the remains of a VIP Petfoods ‘Dog Sausage’. When presented with the ‘Special Ingredient’, Larkham immediately gagged and rushed to the caravans small sink to rinse out his mouth while the panel back at the exit of Pit Lane broke down into unrestrained laughter.

“You’re kidding me!” exclaimed Larkham as he took the pet food from Ingall, “Turn around and bend over!” he mock threatened as he realised that after the prank he pulled the previous year, Ingall had gotten him back with a little extra.

In the Erebus garage, Twilight was stunned at the complexity of the prank Ingall had pulled on Larkham, it was a level above anything that Pinkie Pie or Rainbow Dash had ever tried to pull and she had to admit, it was masterfully thought out and executed.

With the next segment being a pre-recorded question and answer session between the Davison brothers, Twilight felt that it was about time to retire for the night. It was at this time that Fleur had emerged from the GRM garage with a rather smug expression and had taken her place at the side of Fancy Pants.

“Princess, I bid you a good evening.” Fancy Pants said as he and Fleur formally, if a little exaggeratedly, bowed before Twilight.

“And a good evening to you,” replied Twilight, giving both the traditional reply and bow according to her station. Turning to exit the garage, Twilight noticed that the members of the Erebus crew were doing one of two things. They were either nodding while holding the brims of their caps or tugging on a forelock of hair as she passed. While Twilight didn’t know what the strange ritual meant, she was sure that they were mocking her!

Author's Note:

A little something that is lighter and fluffier before getting into the 'Meat and Potatoes' portion of the story.

Many thanks to totallynotabrony and Fana Farouche for all their help.