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THE INTERNATIONAL RACE SCHOOL HOBART, TASMANIA.

Jason returned to Race School to find that during his short absence, the world certainly hadn't stopped.

Lessons were still happening in cla.s.srooms; the pits rippled with practice sessions; cars darted every which way, shooming up the inland highways or whizzing around Storm Bay.

Since he was still barred from racing for a further two days, Jason was restricted to cla.s.sroom work only.

At his first lunchtime back, Ariel Piper sat down beside him.

'Hey! Look who's back!' she exclaimed, clapping him on the shoulder. 'The only racer in the world crazy enough to eject downward! How're you feeling?'

'Better every day,' Jason said. 'Can't wait to get back out on the track.'

Ariel said, 'Hey, thanks again for letting me take on Fabian in that exhibition race. That was very cool of you.'

'I thought you deserved the chance to take him down.'

Ariel smiled. 'Jase. You can't imagine the impact that race has had on me...and on a lot of girls around the world. You should see the fan mail I've been receiving. Lot of chicks wanting to be racers. Lot of girls who were thrilled to see Fabian go down. It made an impact. Thanks for the opportunity.'

'No problem. I was happy just to get some peace and quiet to practise,' Jason said. 'Looks like you've been racing well back here, too. What are you on the Ladder now? 5th?'

'Yuh-huh.' Ariel grinned. 'One win, one second, and one seventh. 23 points in three races. That race against Fabian gave me my fire back. My desire. I'm coming 5th now, and the Top 4 beckons. I wanna go to New York.'

Jason nodded, saw the fire in her eyes. The old Ariel was back.

'Good for you,' he said.

As he spoke, he looked around the lunch hall, and noticed that a few new friends.h.i.+ps seemed to have formed in his absence: Horatio Wong was sitting at Barnaby Becker's and Xavier Xonora's table. So was the young Mexican driver, Joaquin Cortez. At the moment, Xavier's mentor, Zoroastro, was talking to Wong and Cortez and the two lesser drivers were listening to him intently, occasionally nodding.

Ariel saw them, too. 'Yes, hmmm. Zoroastro and Barnaby Becker have been doing a lot of networking while you've been away. A lot. They had lunch with Wong and Cortez every day last week. I once even saw Zoroastro having dinner with your buddy, Isaiah Was.h.i.+ngton, one night.'

'What do you think it means?' Jason asked.

Ariel was silent for a moment.

Then she said seriously: 'We're coming to the business end of the season. Everything is up for grabs. The Champions.h.i.+p is on the line. Four places in the New York Challenger Race are there to be won. Races are gonna get harder, too - longer, more challenging, more demanding. And don't forget that the last ten races are run under Pro Rules - demag strips everywhere, Dead Zones, driver-over-the-line finishes.

'We're entering a whole new world of racing, Jason, and I think Zoroastro

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