• Published 8th Oct 2015
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Conquering the Mountain - johnnosk



How did a pony get into the pit crew?

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Friday October 10, 2014. Part II

Conquering the Mountain
Friday October 10, 2014
Part II

It is said that music may soothe the savage beast, in the case of Len, the transport driver, it was a combination of an apology, a promise not to do it again and buying him a replacement lunch. Even Twilight got into the act by bowing down and offering a grovelling apology straight out of Princess Luna’s lexicon.

Len had calmed down considerably after it was explained what his insulated lunch box was being used for and it seemed that he shared Klimenko’s assessment of making an example of the Nissan Motorsport garage and their antics with a riding crop during the morning drills.

Having been fed, watered and appropriately soothed, much to the amusement of the crew, Len gave his assessment of the three wheeled cart that was built around his purloined lunch box.

“It’ll do.” he said in his usual soft spoken manner

Twilight was about to launch into a tirade about how Klimenko and herself had worked to produce exactly what was needed as well as the spells required when Klimenko put her hand on Twilight’s shoulder and said a phrase that would go down in Equestrian history as one of the great diplomatic replies of all time.

“Oh, shove it up your arse, Len,” replied Klimenko as she extended the middle finger of her right hand before licking the digit, “And here is some lubrication for ya!”

In its own way, Klimenko’s actions were as valuable a lesson in diplomacy as anything that had been taught by Princess Celestia and the banter between team owner and employee was infectious as other crew members began to join in on the soft hazing.

It was during this hazing that Twilight felt a tap on her flank from one of the fabricators behind her.

“I have to ask, Princess, is that your ‘Cutie Mark’?” he asked, nervously, “I mean the Diplomatic Service briefed us but I just wanted to get a closer look.”

“Well, I don’t normally go for that on a first date,” replied Twilight with a smile, “But I’ll make an exception for you.”

The fabricator’s question was not totally unexpected. Over the course of her research, Twilight had found an interesting parallel between tattoos and Cutie Marks, both had great importance to the person or pony and both were a symbol of individual identity.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but your Cutie Mark is a representation of your special talent, right?”

“That’s right,” Twilight had a feeling that the fabricator knew more than he was letting on and she was waiting for the other shoe to drop in the conversation, “I got mine during the entrance exam to Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns.”

“But what does it mean? Is it like abstract art, open to interpretation?”

Twilight was about to answer when a mechanic chimed in his two cents worth, “It’s a star within a star, it could represent the formation of ideas, of thought given form over the universe and physical laws.”

“It kind of looks like the after effect of when she uses her magic after a long day,” said the fabricator, whose face just brightened with a sudden realisation, “It’s a horn fart!”

That was when Twilight punched him.

Twilight had noted in the past that, being an Alicorn, she embodied and enhanced the defining characteristics of the three pony tribes before the formation of Equestria. Her magic was stronger and more precise than before her ascension, with her wings she had the potential to reach speeds faster than any Pegasus and Earth Pony strength to tirelessly work all day.

It was through using that strength, Twilight accidentally floored the smart mouthed fabricator. What would to Applejack or any other Earth Pony be a playful shove was evidentually enough force to cause the mechanic have the wind knocked out of him.

“You alright, Phil?” asked Klimenko, who briefly looked up from her lunch.

“”Yeah, I’m good,” was Phil’s wheezing reply from the garage floor.

Klimenko nodded at Phil’s reaction, “Hey Twilight, next time you’re in your motorhome, bring back your helmet so we can get you fitted for a radio.”

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the crew only gave Phil a token glance as he picked himself up from the cement after only a few seconds of recovery and return to his seat next to Twilight.

“So, not a horn fart.” he said, rubbing his stomach, “Gotcha!”

Twilight relaxed and stared at the countdown clock mounted on the wall, with over 30 minutes remaining until the next practice session, Twilight found herself zoning out as she watched the numbers slowly tick by until someone clicked their fingers next to her ear.

“C'mon Princess, time to move!”

Dazed, Twilight looked around to see that the Erebus garage was quickly becoming a hive of activity with final checks being performed before the Mercedes had to be moved out onto Pit Lane in time for the session start.

The racing regulations stated that all cars had to be in Pit Lane outside of their respective garages at a 45 degree angle towards the pit exit before the start of the session. Under normal circumstances this task would be a team effort to move one and a half tons of machinery out of the garage twice over, with an Alicorn, however, the task was done in time for the drivers to arrive and finish suiting up and take their place behind the wheel.

With both Mercedes properly parked in the rapidly filling Pit Lane Twilight once again retreated towards the relative calm of the rear of the garage, except this time, she was joined by Baird and the older of the Davisons.

“You look beat,” commented Davison, “You need to lie down or something?”

Twilight shrugged of his concern, “I’m just a little worried, the cars are still three seconds behind the times set this morning.”

“Don’t worry too much, this is just a light shakedown to bed in a few of the new components,” said Davison, “We don’t want anything to go wrong in qualifying.”

“I just keep getting the feeling in my horn that I’m forgetting something” Twilight said as she rubbed the base of the appendage.

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll wager that it will come to you soon.”

Davison’s words were the trigger that Twilight needed to realise what she had been missing, “Wager! I forgot to pay for the bets!”

With a flash, Twilight disappeared from the garage area and reappeared inside her motorhome where she began frantically looking through her bags.

“My coin pouch, where did I put it?” she mumbled to herself as she rifled through the few mementos that she had brought with her until she had found her target, “Ah ha, gotcha!”

Under normal circumstances, Twilight would use the local currency for any exchange as she did while picking up supplies at Woolworths on Wednesday, this situation was different. The Australian funds that she had been issued came to her from the Diplomatic Service via the Equestrian treasury and as such, had to be accounted for and audited.

Anything that she bought that did not fall into the realm of ‘reasonable’ according to whomever the Equestrian Revenue Service assigned the task of performing the audit of her expenses would have to be paid back, possibly with interest attached. It was a far easier and much less hassle to use some of her own funds for a bit of social fun.

With her coin pouch firmly in her magical grasp, Twilight began to calm down and plan a suitable course of action. She knew that teleporting back the way she came would be the fastest, but also risky if she were to accidently hit and injure the elder Davison.

Even though she could fly, the distance was that short, it would probably be just as quick to trot back to the garage. With an action plan worked out, Twilight left her temporary accommodations, certain that she had now gotten everything right.

Seconds later, she let herself back in to retrieve her helmet and balaclava. “I’d forget my horn if it wasn't attached.” grumbled Twilight. Satisfied that there was nothing else in the motorhome to acquire, she secured the motorhome and quickly trotted the short distance back to the garages.

Twilight’s return would not normally be a cause for celebration, but having unexpectedly teleported from the garage was having some unforeseen consequences for both the co-drivers and crew who witnessed Twilight’s disappearance. Her return wasn’t without its own questions.

Before she could offer any explanations, Klimenko roughly grabbed Twilight's ear and forcibly dragged her to the back of the garage where the Erebus tire bank was installed. At the bank, a scrutineer from the tire sponsor, Dunlop, took one look at Klimenko’s face before realising that discretion was the better part of valor.

“What the hell did you think you were doing?” roared an upset Klimenko as she waved her hand in the air, “We had no idea what had happened to you, let alone where you’d gone. We thought you’d been ponynapped!”

Twilight was speechless, while teleportation was rare, it was not unheard of but Klimenko’s response was closer to maternal worry rather than an employer disciplining a subordinate. It was because of such worry that Twilight felt even more ashamed.

“Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest,” continued Klimenko, calmer now that she could see that Twilight was remorseful for her actions, “No more disappearing in a flash of light until we can work out some procedure so it can be done in a safe manner. The last thing I want is a visit from those vultures at Occupational Health & Safety.”

“Tell me, Princess, what was so important that you decided to flash off like that?”

Pony faces are far more expressive than the average humans, while a person can show joy, anger, sadness and a score of other emotions through changes in the facial muscles at the eyes, mouth and forehead, a pony will show the same range of emotions through not only their facial muscles, but through the positions of their ears. Currently, Twilight’s ears were displaying her mood as clearly as a pair of tiny semaphore flags.

“I promised that I would pay for my wager.” replied Twilight, feeling foolish. Compared to the chaos she caused, the need to be seen paying good on a promise seemed like such a small thing and Twilight felt worse for it.

Klimenko’s sternness evaporated in an instant, for a brief moment, Klimenko was taken back to a time when she had been disinherited after marrying a man that her father did not approve of. In less than a day, she had gone from ‘Easy Street’ to ‘Struggle Street’ and often surviving on a promise to repay a debt between wages.

“Do you have the cash with you?” Klimenko asked. Twilight nodded and held up her coin pouch which like so many of her personal effects, had her cutie mark embroidered on it. Klimenko took the pouch and was surprised at the weight, with a sly grin she said “A princess must pay her debts, and pay them we shall.”

Klimenko led Twilight back up to the VIP area where the same party that was there before lunch was still going strong with many of the same people enjoying light refreshments. Taking her time to fully explore the VIP area, Twilight was entranced by the large glass windows that overlooked both the pits and Pit Straight. Above the pits there were balconies that not only allowed the VIP’s a bird's eye view of a pit stop, but let them hear and feel the roar of the V8 engines as they sped down Pit Straight without the dampening effect of the glass.

A sharp whistle got Twilight’s attention, Klimenko was standing at the same table as the sales rep that was acting as the unofficial bookmaker that Twilight met before lunch.

“Princess, Betty tells me you're here to settle up?” He asked

“Yes, it’s three Bits I owe for the wager, correct?”

The rep looked over his ledger, quickly finding the entries for Twilight’s bets. “Yeah, it looks like three Bits.”

With a sly smile to Twilight, Klimenko placed the heavy gold alloy coins in front of the rep, adding just a bit of showmanship by ensuring that each coin was placed on the ledger next to Twilight’s entry.

To his credit, the rep was unfazed at the sight of what would be several hundred dollars of gold as he carefully marked Twilight as paid. “Would you like to make a bet, Betty?” he asked.

Klimenko just gave him a sideways look, “Not my thing, luv. I’ve got to get back and run my team.”

With a traditional goodbye and a promise to attend the evening’s entertainment, Klimenko led Twilight back down the stairs from the VIP area and back to the familiar madness that was the garage.

Chris Seidel, Twilight’s initial trainer, took Twilight aside and led her back towards the tire bank. “Nice hit on Phil, by the way,” Seidel began, “He’s going to have a funny shaped bruise for the next few days.”

Twilight blushed and pawed the hard cement floor, while the crew may make light of the incident, to Twilight, it brought back a few memories from her early education in Magic Kindergarden where any foal who couldn’t control their magic was jeered with the insult ‘Horn Fart’.

“Is he going to be okay?” she asked.

Seidel snorted in amusement, “He’s a big guy, he can take it,” he said dismissively, “What I want to talk to you about is something that we missed during your training.”

The prospect of learning something new got Twilight’s attention and instantly lifted her mood, “Oh, what did I miss?”

“There might be a time when, during a stop, the wheel nut won’t thread on properly. When this happens and because time is critical, it is faster to swap out the nut than fix the thread.”

Twilight nodded, so far everything that Seidel had said made sense from a theory standpoint and she was anticipating the practical demonstration.

Not one to disappoint his prize, and only, pupil, Seidel continued “So, when that situation occurs, it is imperative that you act quickly and decisively.” Pulling a marked and worn tire from the bank, Seidel turned it to show Twilight the inside of the wheel, “Remember those flanges on the wheel nut from your training?” he asked

“Yes, they keep the nut inside the wheel, while allowing the nut to spin freely.” answered Twilight, recalling her lesson from six months previously..

“Very good. Now, how do you get a bad nut out of the wheel?”

Seidel had a hard time hiding his amusement as he watched Twilight’s face as she tried to think of how an ordinary non-magical human would remove the nut. After a minute of watching her face contort in thought, Seidel put her out of her misery.

“Like this,” he said, first squeezing the flanges inward and then with a sharp punch from the heel of his hand he popped out the wheel nut. Reaching into his pocket, he retrieved a shiney and new nut that was machined in the last batch before the transporter made the journey to Bathurst.

“See how rounded the edges on the old nut are compared to the new one?”

Examining both nuts, Twilight could indeed see the wear from the rattle gun on the soft metal. “Will the metal be recycled?” she asked

“Normally, yes, but in this case, this nut will more than likely be sold as a souvenir to some lucky race fan.” Seidel pocketed the old nut and prepared the next step in his instruction. "Putting in a fresh nut is surprisingly easy, firstly, make sure that the tire is lying flat on the ground, make sure that the nut is square with the wheel and give it a good whack.”

To demonstrate, Seidel gave the top of the wheel nut two quick strikes with the the heel of his right hand ensuring that it was seated properly, but could still spin freely. “Okay Princess, grab a tire from the top rack and remove the nut.”

Twilight looked at the rack housing the older used and worn tires, on the top shelf there were several that had large crosses over the surface, indicating that the grip was played out and that the tires were too far gone to be reused. Selecting the closest one Twilight repeated the steps shown to her by Seidel.

“Squeeze the flanges in and give it a whack” muttered Twilight to herself, and as with most activities that Twilight undertakes, she used a little too much enthusiasm in her actions. With a solid hit from a powerful Alicorn, the wheel nut shot out of the hub, ricocheted off one of the tool boxes and into the Nissan Motorsport garage

From the other side of the wall there was a yelp of surprise, closely followed by some colourful language. Taking a cue from her instructor’s visible discomfort, Twilight decided that she should introduce herself to the Nissan team and retrieve the accidentally propelled piece of equipment.

In Equestrian history, it was widely known that Celestia and Luna had ruled for millennia. What was not widely known was that during the early period of their rule, somepony would proclaim themselves ‘Champion of the downtrodden’, raise a small army, and march on Canterlot with the intention of sacking the city and installing themselves as ruler.

In a time that was ruled by the sword and the lance, Celestia’s preferred method of dealing with such upstarts was an overwhelming display of magical power which was often enough to demoralise the followers and take the ‘Champion’ into custody. After some time in the cells and the lesson of ‘Anypony can conquer, few can rule’ they were sent to watch over small settlements to see if they had learned anything. If not, they were quietly done away with.

With the same determination, Twilight trotted into the Nissan garage, before she could properly introduce herself one team member in white decided that it was time to start a diplomatic incident.

Sizing the gentleman up, Twilight could see that he was about the size of Len and more than likely was the driver of the Nissan transporter. In his large hands was the wheel nut, a little more dented than before, but still intact.

“This yours, pony?” he said, poorly hiding his amusement as he shuffled from side to side, “If you want it, it’s going to cost you!”

The idea of bargaining for what was Erebus property, seemed more than a little outrageous to Twilight but in the name of diplomacy she was willing to entertain the gentleman. “And what, pray tell, is this cost?”

“A kiss, just a kiss, on the cheek and I’ll let go of this nut.”

Twilight stopped to consider this ‘offer’. In Equestrian society, a kiss from Celestia or Luna could be seen as a form of favouritism to one noble house over another and could cause disharmony. On the other hoof, Twilight wasn’t in Equestria and Australian society would view the kiss not as favoritism, but gamesmanship and bravado.

Another item for Twilight to consider was that one of the evenings competitions was between Erebus and Nissan and the Nissan team might try to use this as a way to gain a psychological advantage over Twilight and Erebus, after all, there was a carton of beer up for grabs for the winners.

Having mapped out several possible strategies, Twilight decided that a quick peck on the cheek, while scandalous in Equestria, would be a kind and harmless gesture in Australia and would work towards her goal of spreading diplomatic harmony and friendship, that and the fact that she couldn’t participate in the Esky challenge.

Twilight trotted up close to the transport driver and giving him a sly look through half lidded eyes, “You’re going to have to kneel down, big boy,” she said

The driver was more than a little taken back by the sudden shift in Twilight’s demeanor, but nevertheless, he complied and was justly rewarded with both a peck on the cheek and a quick nuzzle and, as promised, he upheld his end of the bargain by holding his arm straight out and letting go of the wheel nut.

Where it fell into the safe hands of the lead driver for the number 360 car, James Moffat. Moffat was watching the whole episode unfold with amusement had decided to join in the fun after he had pitted for a driver change during the current practice session.

“Does this mean I get a kiss too?” he asked with a cheeky grin

Twilight smiled and gripped the nut tightly in her magic and gently pulled it towards her. Not to be outdone, Moffat not only kept his grip, but resisted the pull ensuring that the nut remained unmoved.

The look in Moffat’s eyes spoke volumes towards his determination, the situation had gone beyond mere diplomatic posturing and into a battle of pure wills. That was until Twilight turned and merrily trotted back to the Erebus garage, the wheel nut floating behind her and attached to that nut was Moffat being dragged out of the Nissan garage and into the territory of the three pointed star.

“Well, this is different,” said Moffat between giggling at the absurdity of the situation as he stubbornly refused to release his grip on the errant wheel nut while being dragged back into the section of the garage that housed the tire bank, “Alex! How are ya!”

The elder of the Davison brothers, who looked on as Twilight first hesitantly walked into the Nissan garage only to come prancing out moments later looked on in amusement at his former co-driver’s antics, “Jimmy, what are you doing?” he asked trying to hold back his laughter.

“I’m waiting for my kiss.” replied Moffat as he stood up, still holding onto the nut, “And I’m not leaving without one.”

Davison snorted, while Moffat was as serious a driver as his father, Allan, he also shared his father’s sense of humour. In this case however, it was about come back and bite him “Don’t look at me, ask the Princess for one.” said Davison with a wave in Twilight’s general direction

During her time with Erebus, Twilight had picked up on several non verbal ‘tics’ that most humans have, the message from Davison was ‘Play along, keep him distracted’, Twilight endeavored to do just that. “I can’t kiss him, it would be unfair to the other person”

With Davison and Twilight being the focus of Moffat’s attention, he was unaware of a fourth party to the conversation who was being surprisingly stealthy in their approach. “Looks like it’s up to me then!” said Klimenko as she went through the motions to plant a rather wet and ‘grandmotherly’ style kiss on Moffat’s cheek.

In mock disgust similar to that of an ill disciplined grandchild, Moffat made a face as Klimenko followed through on her ‘threat’ and indeed planted a sloppy kiss on the rival drivers cheek before giving him a hug and a playful shove back towards his home garage while at the same relieving him of his purloined booty.

With the distraction gone and Klimenko back in front of the timing boards, Twilight was back in the tire bank and continuing her lesson with Siedel. This time with a fresh nut, she laid the tire flat on the ground, just as she was instructed, and with a solid stomp she seated the nut in the wheel. A quick test showed that the nut was properly seated and could spin freely.

Between paying for wagers, being disciplined by Klimenko and retrieving errant Erebus equipment and the lesson, the practice session had ended and both Mercedes were being given a rundown by the engineers with various diagnostic tools while the bodywork was being cleaned of dirt and road grime.

It was a whistle from Seidel brought Twilight’s attention to the workbench where her helmet was resting. “Qualifying is in less than an hour and you need to be fitted with a radio.” he said, “Under normal conditions, the guys on the tires wouldn’t be equipped with a radio, but during endurance races, there is so much going on, without a radio, you’d shout yourself hoarse.”

Twilight was both intelligent and diplomatic enough to realise that Seidel was talking about a vocal condition and not a derogatory remark, besides, there were times when she had felt a little hoarse herself..

Holding up her helmet, Seidel continued. “You’re already familiar with the microphone pickup and the 5 millimetre input from your hot lap, what you may not have noticed are these two little buttons on the back of the helmet.”

Seidel turned the helmet so that Twilight could see the buttons in question, one blue and one red. “The blue button lets you talk to everybody in our pit who has a radio on, Betty, the engineers, the car controler, everyone. The red button allows you direct communication with the drivers, We ask you not to press that button unless instructed.”

Twilight could see a seriousness in Seidel’s expression when he told her about the red button, mentally, she made a note to have it covered with something to prevent any chance of accidentally activating it.

Seidel continued, “Transmissions between the driver and the garage are encrypted so that no other team can listen in or interfere with any driver instructions. Apart from ourselves, only Race Control and Channel 7 have the encryption key, Race Control records everything said incase there is a protest and Channel 7 use their access for commentary during the race.”

“You’ve explained what the buttons do, but where is the radio, is it in the helmet?”

“Not quite, when the helmet was being fabricated, one of our secure headsets was disassembled and incorporated into the helmet. You may have noticed that there is a small loop on the back of your firesuit, that is where we will attach the radio.” Seidel held up the small black unit that was the encrypted radio, along with a small harness.

“But since you won’t be wearing your suit, you’ll have to put this on as a temporary measure.”

The harness itself was designed to fit over Twilight’s head and secure around her waist, it was heavily padded and had large ‘hoof friendly’ clips that Twilight could operate with minimal difficulty.

Properly adjusted to make allowances for her wings, the harness fit snuggly and Seidel attached the radio to Twilight’s back. Next was Twilight’s balaclava and helmet, and again, Seidel made sure that the helmet was fitting properly before connecting the helmet to the radio.

“Now here comes the fun part,” said Seidel as he picked up his own headset and radio combination. Pressing a blue button on one ear he intoned, “Radio check, radio check.” while looking at Twilight for a response.

Twilight nodded, although it was not the first time she had been exposed to the equipment, she was still in awe of the technology that she’d only been introduced to a day ago.

“Now that we've checked the receiver is working, try transmitting on the pit channel.”

Like most Unicorns, Twilight could finely manipulate most objects without looking directly at them, due to her innate abilities however, Twilight could not only grasp and manipulate objects outside of her vision but ‘feel’ differences in textures. This meant that as long as she had an idea of where an object was supposed to be, she could turn a dial, flick a switch or push a button.

With a gentle push of her magic, Twilight activated the first switch. “Am I doing it right?” she asked.

Seidel nodded as he heard Twilight clearly over the radio. Looking at the hub that Seidel was using to test Twilight’s equipment, Twilight wondered how the technology could be incorporated into normal weather operations.

Currently, communications between Pegasi and ponies on the ground and even different teams of Pegasi were limited to either shouting through a cone to amplify the voice or the use of signal flags, each came with their own set of limitations.

“So, what’s next?” asked Twilight as she rocked her head from side to side, getting a feel for the slight increase in weight that the helmet added.

Seidel checked the clock on the wall and smiled, “For the moment, let’s see what’s on TV.”

At Equestria’s current level of development, books, films, and vaudeville style stage shows were the current forms of popular entertainment, the introduction of television would be a boon for entertainment and education in Equestria.

“Welcome back to our telecast,” said the host Mark Beretta, “Over the years we’ve had celebrities and commentators such as the legendary Murray Walker and Darrell Waltrip, but this is the first time that we’ve had royalty at the Bathurst 1000 and she went on a hot lap with Red Bull’s Craig Lowndes.”

Twilight watched as a montage, cut together from her three laps, played on the screen. Included were the inarticulate moans and grunts spaced between a few choice pieces of dialog. A few members of the pit crew who obviously had been informed of the segment beforehand were attempting to contain their laughter.

When the segment switched from Twilight’s time on the circuit to the Tech Centre, any attempts at containing merriment were lost as they saw Twilight holding a microphone in her magical grip while trying to explain some of her choicest statements to a joking Mark Larkham.

It had not occurred to Twilight that the majority of the crew only saw the after effects of her hot laps and none of the video. She knew deep in her soul that the drivers, especially the younger of the Davisons, were not only watching the same program, but were adding to their arsenal of witticisms.

“Shouldn’t we be getting the cars out for the qualifying?” asked Twilight in a transparent attempt to divert attention away from the program.

Feeling sorry for their fellow crew member, the team, with some good natured reluctance, began the task of shifting the cars out of the garage and onto Pit Lane in preparation for the qualification session, although one crew member couldn’t help himself.

“Yee-Ha!”

“Oh, stick it up your exhaust, Phil!”

Unlike other events on the Supercar calendar, qualifying at bathurst was a two stage process. While the vast majority of the field will know their starting positions on the grid for Sunday’s race, drivers who qualified in the top 10 got a second chance to do a qualifying run on a clear track on Saturday afternoon during the shootout.

With 90 seconds until Pit Lane was opened and the qualifying session officially started, the drivers were hustled to their cars as final checks were completed and engines were started. Near the exit of Pit Lane, an official stood with a flag at the ready.

At precisely 3:00, the official waved his flag twice and a call went out over the radio’s. “Pit Lane exit is now open.”

At that signal, the field pulled out in order to begin the session and, more importantly, warm up their brakes and the fresh hard compound tires.

“What’s next?” asked Twilight, looking to her mentor for guidance

“Hopefully, nothing. Will and Lee will do a couple of laps and post a time while taking the shine off a set of tires before coming in.” Seidel explained, ‘shine’ being a racing term for the outer part of the grip surface of a new set of tires, it’s only good for a few laps before it wears away and is replaced with a more normal grip.

“And if something does go wrong?”

“We’ll probably take the shine off three sets and end up redoing our entire pit strategy.”

It only took 5 minutes before the first cars returned to the pits, some making minor adjustments while others played the waiting game, hoping that the surface would begin to cool and allow the cars to go faster around the circuit.

Over the next few laps, cars from every manufacturer passed through Pit Lane, some continuing to make adjustment to their qualifying setup while others played the long game by doing their warm up laps on old tires and were only now switching to the hard compound to put in a fast flying lap to set a qualifying time.

10 minutes into the session, everything came to a crashing halt as one car did, in fact, crash. David Reynolds had mistimed his approach past Reid Park and Mcphillamy Park and had impacted the wall while passing slow traffic.

With the field under red flag and the clock stopped, the pits scrambled into a hive of activity with fresh tires being prepared while race engineers worked their particular brand of magic in reworking Sunday’s race strategy.

A stopped clock also meant that there was no need to continue posting lap times so drivers were being called in and clearing the circuit for the flatbed truck that was assigned that section to be able to work in safety in retrieving Reynolds damaged Falcon.

As the flatbed entered the paddock area, the red flag was lifted, the clock was unfrozen to continue the countdown and qualifying was underway again. Crews scrambled to get their team cars back out onto the circuit, a clear circuit meant no interference from slow cars or upset aerodynamics and while brakes and tires had begun to cool, heating them back up to race levels was done in seconds.

Luck was on the side of Erebus. After swapping out the partially worn set of tires from each Mercedes and positioning the cars so that they could have a fast exit from Pit Lane when they were cleared for release, the trio came out on the tail of Robert Dahlgren in the number 34 Volvo and powered up Mountain Straight to put in a hot lap.

The fresh surface at Mount Panorama had played havoc with the teams during every practice session with at least one car making solid contact with the protective concrete barriers on either side of the circuit every session. With one casualty from the qualifying session, it seemed only fitting that another top driver would end the session prematurely.

Jamie Whincup, the reigning champion of the V8 Supercars and 4 time winner of the Bathurst 1000 ended up in the wall at The Cutting a mere 6 minutes after the qualifying session had resumed, and once again the session was red flagged.

“Is this normal?” asked Twilight as she saw the engineers take off their own headsets and confer with each other, “Should we get another set of tires ready?”

“Simmer down, Princess,” chided Seidel, “The cars will be brought in and decisions will be made, until then, we wait.”

Both Mercedes had been timed at just over the 2 minutes and 8 seconds mark for a lap around the mountain, and with the clock being suspended once again, the question was whether to put on a third set of fresh tires from the allocation or continue with the set already on the Mercedes.

“Princess, please come to the timing board.” Twilight heard through her helmet, it was Brad Wischusen, the lead engineer for Erebus. While each individual car had its own engineer to advise the driver and supervise any adjustments, it was the lead engineer who was charged with overseeing the entire operation, not only the race duties of assessing when to make a pit stop or a brake pad change, but to review test data and component wear between race meetings to better perform his job.

Hooves on concrete are not the most stealthy and as such, the team of engineers faced her as soon as she got close enough to talk, “Do those wings of yours work or are they just decoration?” asked Wischusen, surprising Twilight before she could announce herself.

“Um, yes, they work just fine.” Twilight was more than a little taken back at being spoken to so abruptly.

Wischusen reached into a drawer below the timing board and pulled out a brand new set of protective goggles that would fit into the indentation on Twilight’s helmet. “I need you to fly above our pit box and tell us who on Pit Lane is doing what,” he said fitting the goggles, “Fly straight up and do not stray outside of the pit box. Go!”

Twilight found herself being hustled out into the open area of the pit box. With a short hop and a few flaps of her wings, she had gained enough altitude to clearly see down the entire length of Pit Lane.

“What do you see, Princess?” came the call over her helmet

Twilight did a quick visual scan of Pit Lane. She could see that some of the teams had cars in their respective pit bays and were swapping out tires while others had either bypassed their bays or had already had a tire change and were lining up at the pit exit waiting for Pit Lane to be reopened.

Reporting back to Wischusen, she said over the radio, “The blue Fords at the end of Pit Lane are getting fresh tires, as well as one from DJR and I think Jack Perkins is getting new tires too.”

There was silence on the radio as the engineering team conferred, while it was a near certainty that both Mercedes would end up on the back half of the grid, the elimination of two of the top cars from qualifying meant that they might qualify somewhere closer to the middle of the pack.

“Okay, Princess, You can come back down now,” was the directions from Wischusen. Twilight was eager to comply, with Pit Lane getting crowded being out in the open was quickly becoming a workplace hazard.

While Twilight was acting as a reconnaissance drone, Whincup’s Commodore had been loaded onto a tilt tray and the timer for the session had been allowed to continue although under red flag conditions with the field staying safely in the pits. Once the tilt tray had begun its entrance onto Pit Lane, the red flag was lifted and the field was cleared to start qualifying once more.

Twilight looked at the timer mounted on the garage wall, with just over 18 minutes remaining, most of the teams hadn’t put in their hot lap and as such were currently in positions at the rear of the starting grid.

For the first lap after the red flag, drivers concentrated on reheating brakes and tires, from the television coverage, Twilight could hear the distinctive sound of the tires skipping under the hard cornering loads as they lost and regained grip.

With 16 minutes to go before the end of the session, it seemed that the drivers had received instructions from their respective bosses that they needed to start setting competitive lap times and Twilight watched as drivers leapfrog each other on the leaderboard as the lap times starting being registered.

Examining the board closer, Twilight noticed an interesting anomaly. “Michael Caruso and Garth Tander are still in the pits,” she said, “Why haven’t they gone out?”

“Weather, Princess,” said Wischusen, not looking up from his monitors, “In about ten minutes, the track will begin to cool and get about a second faster. They put on a third set of tires, so they are waiting until the right time to do a lap. Either that or those Nissan starter motors have failed again!”

With the constantly changing leaderboard, Twilight watched as both Mercedes got pushed further and further back as the higher ranked teams started to put in faster and faster laps. She saw teams bring in their cars, satisfied with the results and with only 10 minutes to go until the end, it seemed like a sound tactical decision.

The qualifying session was now into the final leg as strategic decisions concerning tire wear were made. Cars that had completed a hot lap had caused the leaderboard to shuffle itself once again forcing some drivers out of the coveted top ten positions.

First it was Garth Tander pushing Craig Lowndes out of the top ten only to be followed seconds later by Shane Van Gisbergen taking the provisional pole, unseating last years race winner, Mark Winterbottom, only to be pushed to second as Fabian Coulthard stole Van Gisbergen’s thunder and shaved over half a second off the lap time and, for the moment, securing a new lap record.

In the final few minutes of the session and in the wake of several cars being pushed out of the top ten, Pit Lane was rapidly being emptied as drivers went out with fresh tires and a determination to take advantage of the cooling track surface to claw back position for Saturday’s Top Ten Shootout.

Under the stress of trying to secure a competitive position, Twilight watched Jason Bright and minutes later, Jack Perkins, push their cars a little too hard at the Chase and both drivers ended up off the circuit, effectively destroying any progress that they had gained on that lap.

As Lowndes cross the start line with one minute to go, Twilight heard someone mutter, “When was the last time Lowndes missed a shootout?”

“Never,” came the reply, “He’s never missed one since his debut in ‘94.”

Twilight turned her attention to the television. The qualifying session was over and those cars still on the circuit were allowed to finish their current lap and have their times counted, on screen, Lowndes was starting his descent from Skyline and while he had put in a personal best time for the first sector, he had to keep on that pace to get into the top ten, and there was a chance that even that may not be good enough.

“C’mon, Lowndes,” Twilight said to herself, her wings and ears were waving like semaphores, something that the crew found both amusing and a minor workplace hazard, Twilight became even more frantic as Lowndes cleared the second sector and was onto Conrod Straight, “C’mon, c’mon!”

Had Twilight been more aware of her surroundings, she would have noticed that she was not only receiving some strange looks, but at least one crew member was wondering if there were any horse tranquilizers nearby.

Lowndes had cleared the Chase and was using a slightly wider racing line that would give him better exit speed at the expense of greater tire wear. With one eye on the lap time, she started bouncing like Pinkie Pie and chanting “Do it, do it, DO IT!”

Seconds later, Lowndes crossed the finish line with a time that managed to put him in 9th position for the next days Shootout. Once confirmation was shown on both the television and the timing board, Twilight lost what little self control she had left.

“He did it! He did it!” she shouted while hovering in the air, “Twenty straight top ten shootouts!”

“Hold your horses, Princess” said Wischusen from the timing board, “Still some others on their final lap.”

Twilight watched as first one car, then another crossed the finish line. The first couldn’t improve his time and stayed in 5th and the second was outside the ten. The third car, driven by Dale Wood, managed to make the jump from 13th to third and finalising the top ten and officially ending the qualifying session.

Slightly winded from her exuberant display, Twilight was now attempting to recover some sense of decorum. “How did Will and Lee do?” she asked Wischusen.

“Wood would have caused some trouble if he could,” replied the engineer with a sly grin on his wordplay, “As it stands, that last lap pushed Davison and Holdsworth back down to 17 and 18 on the grid. While not good news, having Reynolds and Whincup crash means that they’ll start from the back of the grid which means they’ll put pressure on the front runners early on and Chaz Mostert has been excluded from qualifying for overtaking under the red flag!”

“What would Wood have done to cause trouble?” Twilight asked, trying to keep a smile off her own muzzle, Wischisen’s wordplay was both enjoyable and infectious.

“He’s a good driver, but launching these cars from a standing start isn’t the easiest task in racing. A poor start can lead to a car dropping three places before the first corner and Wood can be a little too aggressive in retaking position. Having him at the front and away from us can be an advantage.”

“What about Will, can he do what Wood wouldn’t?”

“Well, Will won’t, but Wood would if he could.”

It was enough for Twilight and Wischusen to break down into unrestrained mirth with any sense of decorum lost as the pair released days of tension in a single cathartic moment. It was a little too much for one team member.

“Enough with the gigglefest, we’ve got work to do.”

With a sigh, Twilight nodded to Wischusen, her body language clear that she was deferring to him in this matter. “Stick it up your exhaust, Phill!”

Author's Note:

That's qualifying done and soon the Great Race will begin!

Many thanks to totallynotabrony and Fana Farouche for providing editing assistance. This story would be far worse without their help.

As the story and my confidence grows, I will be adding a few things like HTML tags to external links so that readers can learn more about a person. While I try to make sure that the links are accurate, there will be a short time after publishing when I'm polishing the chapter to make sure that those links aren't a mass of HTML garbage and I ask for your understanding if you've jumped in as soon as the story has appeared on your feed.