My story in words and images: Cyndie Allemann Racing diary. Episode 2012.03: Showtime!
Thursday, 2012-03-29. Tokyo, Japan.
Reflections on the past week (don’t stare at the sun for too long).
A mere seven days ago, Cyndie was still in Japan, playing the glamorous and fashion card at the glitzy Audi R8 GT Spyder launch organized by Audi Japan. Since then, she has returned home to attend her karting business (Spirit Karting) in Zürich, and is now already back in Japan for the real deal: the first round of the Super GT 2012 season at Okayama. These are the many faces of Cyndie: improvised top model, grassroot kart racer, business woman and, last but not least, professional race car driver. Oh, and world-class traveller — with two 10k flights in five days, she totally deserves this title, too.
Coming back to Japan, Cyndie is still reflecting on the Audi Japan event last week and how quickly she can get under the spotlight as a female race car driver, and especially an attractive looking one. This has been the battle of her professional life as she has always fought to be taken as a serious force to be reckoned with on track and in the garage, but yet at the same time, she is quite aware of her own sex appeal and image. The challenge is how to use one without hurting the other. The Audi Japan event was a good test almost a week later, Cyndie feels it was past with success.
“I really feel like I’m two different characters: race car driver is my first role, and I’m fully focused on this whenever I have my fire suit on. On the other hand, I also have to represent my team, my sponsors and myself, and this is when I enjoy preparing myself and having a lot of style. I feel comfortable being center stage and in front of the cameras. At the Audi Japan event, at the moment I got out of the R8, I really felt like a star on a red carpet. At the end of the day, it’s obvious that a female race car driver does have this sex appeal edge over her male colleagues.”
Friday, 2012-03-30. Okayama, Japan.
The Empress’ new clothes.
Out with the Hugo Boss dress, in with the Sparco suit. From one fashion statement to an entirely different one: Friday was the day Cyndie finally received her new driver suit: a flashy Audi Sport Customer Racing suit. This moment has its own share of symbolism: a racing suit is much more than just a working suit meant to protect the driver and make her feel comfortable while performing her sport. It really is her warrior armor, in an almost medieval way. This suit will be a major part of Cyndie’s image for the full season — with fans and sponsors alike.
Other than getting her new suit and other racing equipment, Friday was quite a busy day for Cyndie and the whole Hitotsuyama Racing team. No track action at all, but the standard first-race-of-the-season formalities: administrative check, drivers briefing with GTA (the sanctioning body for the Super GT series), meet and great with competitors, etc. But even more important was the Friday pre-race weekend briefing with her team, in which the development program as well as current technical issues were discussed. The day ended late, sign that there was a lot of work to be accomplished.
“After all these years working as a professional race car driver, it still remains exciting to get a new driver suit, before the start of the season. I’m always a bit concerned that it won’t fit and be a bit tight, but with this one, I felt comfortable with it as soon as I tried it. The look is important, of course, but functionality and comfort are even more critical, since the driver suit is part of my toolkit to do my job properly. At a more philosophical level, getting a new driver suit always makes me feel like a warrior getting her new armor.”
Saturday, 2012-03-31. Okayama, Japan.
Tech talk: a race car driver and her quest for the best race car.
A typical Super GT weekend is a very hectic deal: only one practice session on Saturday, and already on to the qualifying session in the afternoon with a three-round knockout format. Essentially, there is barely any time to learn anything and even make major setup changes. Not for the faint of heart, and this situation is even worst for rookie drivers as the learning curve is quite steep: they have no room for error and the actual track time needed to learn and find the right setup is quite limited.
Those are the conditions Cyndie had to deal with on Saturday, in addition to a very difficult context of changing weather conditions and (even more important) a major tire wear issue.
Did she and her teammate Aki found the right balance, in their quest for the best race car? The perfectionist in Cyndie might say ‘no’, but nevertheless, their first qualifying session as a team was a success: 15th place for Aki in Q1, and 12th place for Cyndie in Q2, barely missing her entry in Q3 by a being held up in traffic in her very last flying lap.
“I find it more and more interesting to work with my team on the development. Slowly but surely, the team is starting to gel as a unit, and more and more, I feel they understand me and my driving style. Qualifying was crazy with an episode of rain, sun and then snow in only 10 minutes, early in Q2. I tried to manage to the best I could, and I reached a good rhythm, enough to crack the top-10 – as a matter of fact, in the next to last lap, I was still in the top-10. The last lap looked promising, but I was slowed down by one car. A bit disappointing but still OK.”
Sunday, 2012-04-01. Okayama, Japan.
Showtime, good time: the first race... And a birthday party.
At last, race day! Fun day, serious day, but also birthday for Cyndie as she got treated to an early birthday celebration, during the pre-race pitwalk. For the race girl in her, she could not find a better setting to celebrate her anniversary than a pitlane surrounded by her team, teammates and her new Japanese fans.
Celebrations were short, as she had to get ready for her first Super GT race... And not to mention her first Super GT start as she was the one selected to take the green flag — quite an honour for a first race in the series. The starting grid is always a busy moment for a race car driver, having to focus while at the same time meeting fans and VIPs alike. Cyndie dealt with this the attention with grace and by start time, she was ready for the big show.
And what a race it was for Cyndie and Aki in the #21 Audi R8 LMS: after numerous on-track battles and having to deal with the (now) infamous tire wear issue, a 9th place finish in the super competitive 25-car field GT300 race is a very promising result, especially for a first experience. Top-6 and podium finishes are coming, and sooner rather than later...
“Today was very cool because I got to take the start, like at Le Mans. Making the race start is always a good experience to me. I made a good start, and in the first few laps, I was able to gain one position and reach 11th spot. Everything went well – of course, there was a minor contact, but this is racing. One thing that impressed me was the fact that the grandstands were full. It is very good to see that motor racing is well appreciated in Japan, with so many fans, especially many fans who support me and want autographs. It is very promising for the future.”