And then - tone, tone, ping - the start lights went green and the two cars shot off the mark and the crowds in the stands roared.
One enclosed track.
The Argonaut and the Pied Piper banked and swerved as they rushed like a pair of bullets around the track, ducking and swooping and missing each other by inches as they jockeyed for position.
Out of the corner of his eye on his right side, Jason glimpsed the red-and-white nose of the Pied Piper shooting around the track alongside him.
After five quick laps, there was nothing in it.
After ten, they were still side-by-side.
Jason's concentration was hyper-intense, eyeing the speed-blurred track whizzing by him.
Round and round they went, zipping over and under the figure-8 track, at some times side-by-side, at others on each other's heels, swapping the lead but never by more than a couple of car lengths.
The crowd was captivated.
And then suddenly like a horse throwing a shoe, Jason unexpectedly lost a magneto drive and although more than anything he didn't want to pit first, he peeled off into the pits.
Ariel stayed on the track, shooting off on the next 30-second lap.
The crowd gasped.
Jason had 30 seconds.
He hit the pit bay. The Tarantula descended.
The Pied Piper zoomed through the city section.
New mags went on. A splash of coolant.
The Pied Piper zoomed over the cross-over of the figure-eight.
13 seconds...14 seconds.
'Almost done...okay! Go!'
And Sally cut short the stop and the Tarantula withdrew into the ceiling and Jason hit the gas and blasted out of the pits just as Ariel came screaming round the final turn, hard on the Argonaut's heels - now only several car-lengths behind it!
This was cla.s.sic match-racing, the part of the race known as the 'chase phase'.
The Pied Piper (no pit stops) was hammering on the tail of the Argonaut (one stop), chasing it down. If Jason made even the slightest mistake and Ariel got her nose a millimetre ahead of him, it was race over.
And it only had to be a single millimetre - microchips attached to nosewings of both cars would start screaming as soon as they detected one car to be a lap ahead of the other.
Jason had to hold Ariel off until she was forced to pit.
But she didn't pit.
She just kept chasing him.
Charging after him.
Hunting him down, taking each banking turn perfectly, gaining with each lap. Hauling him in metre by brutal metre.
After one lap, she was two car-lengths behind the Argonaut.
After two: one car-length.
And after three laps, she had crept inside a car-length!
It was relentless. Ariel was throwing eve
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