They say you can work anywhere if you’ve been in F1. People still in F1 say that. Outside the buzz of the circuit, where teams of carnies jet around the world in search of mad trophies and large champagne bottles, I’ve had to work at it. I feel more like a salesman than an engineer, going door to door, selling what I can do: make a winning race car.
For today’s one-year anniversary of Car of the Day, the email strange car love-in that I write every day, a number of things came together: Sam Livingstone, of Car Design Research sent me a note on a concept he worked on, the 1999 Mirae. Naturally, this led to asking its original stylist, Guy Colborne, if he could please draw a racing version for a fictional story involving a disgraced F1 engineer and a young, fictional Korean hotshoe named Min-Soo Lee*. Here is the rest of that story…
Well, and a fair bit of selling what I had done while in F1, while keeping them focused on the good parts. I often end with, “I’ve been to the winner’s circle more times than I can count but I think you’d really enjoy it,”—that’s as much of a showman as I have in me. I’d rather work. Running a race shop is more difficult than I thought it would be, and I’m pretty pessimistic to begin with.
This project scares me, to be honest.
Money has twisted racing into this big mess and I’m not sure it’ll ever recover. The New Millenium will probably be filled with racing drivers who have to swipe a credit card before being strapped into their Benettons. The real money in this sport bypasses guys like me. I can build race-winning machines in my sleep, but money seems to flow between the usual suspects. It’s hard to get a break.
Is Daewoo my break?
Min-Soo Lee is late for his seat fitting. I’ve never heard of the kid, but he was part of the deal. Started reading about Korea but there wasn’t much online, not much car stuff anyway. I can’t understand any of it. The Daewoo people say there’s one street circuit opening up this year, and then more. Racing will be a big deal in Korea, they say maybe even F1 will race there someday.
If the UK was down to one track, we’d charge the castle. But why build tracks when the rich kids who want to go racing already get shipped off to boarding schools in Europe and in the U.S.? Apparently, Min-Soo has been racing touring cars around Asia as well as earning an economics degree at Stanford. Textiles, I think that’s what Joe said. His family is in textiles.
“Is this Dynamic Racing?” Min-Soo finally found the shop. I didn’t realize it was raining until the door opened.
“Yeah, come over to my office, get out of the rain,” I call out. It’s late. After a day of sales calls I found myself back at the shop, working on camber settings before our first test. I’d rather be filling my clipboard with numbers than babysit, but Daewoo is my only client. Time to play nice with the new kid.
“I thought the team was bigger,” he said, entering my office. For now, it’s just an industrial park setup with two bays, small reception area, my office, and a meeting room. We share a washroom with the Greek tile importer next door.
“Hi Min-Soo, I’m Guy.”
This first test will be interesting. I’ve only had a few months to turn what will soon be shown as a concept car into an actual race car. There have been more faxes than mechanics—just Joe and Peter, plus a few old F1 friends who don’t mind building new race cars in their spare time. Daewoo has two small armies of kids on computers; one group is here in the UK, in the small old-age seaside hot spot of Worthing, where the concept is being designed.
My contacts at the automaker want the car to take the grid for the Chinese round of the FIA GT Championship in November, which would be a coup for them. I don’t understand the politics of it, but I’m amazed at how when I send a fax to Korea at any hour of the day, one comes back with the answer I’m looking for. They seem motivated. Through the fax, parts are ordered, inquiries are made…there have been so many foreign-marked boxes arriving at the shop in the past few weeks that the neighbours think we’re building a rocket.
The car is a good start, actually. Laid out as a mid-engined concept car with a really slick interior, we’ve kept the basic shape but have had to make it all from scratch. Carbon fibre body panels, roll cage, suspension, engine…with my name on the line, it’s going to be a great race car.
Even with no other clients, I was seriously on the fence about taking this gig until they shared who had designed its 2.5-litre inline-6 cylinder engine: Dr. Ulrich Bez. After seeing our race motor on the dyno, with some modifications to the turbos it was making 600 horsepower. It may say Daewoo on the top but all of the lessons he learned at BMW and Porsche seem to be working. Aero can be fixed, the suspension can be changed, but I’m with Enzo Ferrari: if the engine is no good, there’s little hope for success.
It’s Friday afternoon, and it’s just Min-Soo and I. The mechanics helped us load the car and some spares onto the lorry and will meet us at Catalunya. If all goes to plan, we can ship the car directly from the test to China—but it’ll be close. It’s already late September, and I want the mechanics to be rested, so they’re taking a day off before flying to meet us in Spain. Min-Soo, on account of his studies, hasn’t been around the shop as much as I’d have liked. As the team boss, I’ve asked him to share driving duties as we get this million-pound machine to the track—both to see how he is behind the wheel and to get him up to speed on the finer points of the world’s fastest Daewoo.
These days, I’ve had less and less communication with Daewoo. They haven’t been late to pay yet, which is something to be cherished in this business. Min-Soo is our lead driver, so for this two-day test he’s doing most of the driving before hired gun Gianni Morbidelli arrives on the second day. I worked with him at Footwork Arrows, and he’s fast enough—with a little luck we should be in the top 10. Maybe.
I think Daewoo is expecting a victory.
We leave the shop in Bloxham and head down the M40 toward London. Past Oxford, Slough, Woking, and finally we’re heading toward Dover. Traffic has been a nightmare; the last train leaves at just after 11 PM, and we’ve only just reached Sevenoaks. It’s already 9 PM. I have been distracted, talking Min-Soo’s ears off about the car and missed the temperature gauge’s slow climb into the red. I’m surprised when I see the warning light.
I let off the throttle and immediately fear the worst, as if this workhorse diesel will tear itself apart like race cars do. More likely, it just needs a breather after sitting in stop-and-go for so long. Actually, it could be worse. We’re close to a nice little service station that Jackie Oliver showed me a few years ago on our way back to the UK after the French Grand Prix.
“You’ll get to drive onto the train and all that,” I say, turning to him for effect, “…must be a treat to be sitting up so high.”
It’s not my best attempt at humour, and he seems uninterested. I can’t tell if he’s a sponge, soaking all this up, or if he’ll cave under pressure once he realizes that he’s the fastest Korean on earth, come qualifying at Zhuhai. I worry that the label of, “The Fastest Korean” will have us starting from the back of the grid.
We reach Southwest Service. I send Min-Soo in to get a few snacks and get my tea ready while I check on the truck—its just needs a bit of time to cool off. I set my watch timer for 20 minutes and head inside. It’s raining.
It’s the last week of December, the time every year when you wish it was all over, when you wish the slate could be wiped clean and the New Millenium—or Rapture—could just hurry up and get here. The shop is gone, bills unpaid…I’m broke, and my long-suffering wife is doing her best to keep up with the lawyers, the doctors, and the invoices they send.
Daewoo is over. The company imploded, and I was probably its first victim. I can’t remember much, but the Earl Grey tasted metallic…and that’s all I can really tell the police. The addresses, fax numbers, the lot—every point of contact between me and Daewoo has been disconnected.
At the time, I thought that Min-Soo left me with my tea and cookie in the station, and headed to the lorry to get comfortable in the driver’station, and headed to the lorry to get comfortable in the driver’s seat. Apart from the headphone-wearing kid on the till, we were the only ones at the station that night.
I remember hearing the truck’s rear doors swing open. And then the race car fire up. It was the first time I’d heard the Mirae’s engine outside the shop. Throaty, with the smooth din of a punchy straight-six. The turbos whirred away. Wait—Why was I still here, with my tea? How did Lee get it started…why did he get it started?
Doctors couldn’t find a trace of whatever it was that I said was in my system. Or Min-Soo Lee—they tell me the kid’s a ghost. The stuff he slipped into my drink made me move heavily, awkwardly to the door, until I fell out of it and onto the pavement. The poison did a number on my system…I was eating boiled potatoes and mushy peas through the holidays.
“What a good-looking race car,” the clerk heard me say as he rushed to my aid. For what it’s worth, police say the station’s single camera was pointing directly at the cash register, and that it didn’t record sound. The ever-helpful teenaged clerk says he didn’t see or hear the car until it was well on its way.
After seeing it belt past, out of the lot and onto the open road, I doubt anyone will see the Mirae FIA GT again. Shame: it was probably good for a top 10.
Again, a massive thank-you to both Sam and Guy for their help. Tomorrow, I’ll be doing a deep-dive on the actual 1999 Daewoo Mirae concept—a mid-engined, straight-6 machine that time seems to have forgotten.
*Thanks to Delusion77 for helping me correct the name Min-Soo Lee.
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