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But his enthusiasm only went so far.

He didn't want to endanger a new Ferrari F-3000 in an exhibition race. Which was why he allowed his team of engineers to put a superseded F-2900 engine in the Argonaut, to bring it up to speed with Fabian's Renault.

The phones didn't stop ringing all evening.

People were running every which way in Jason's apartment.

And in the middle of it all, Jason went into his room and made a single phone call himself.

CHAPTER FOUR.

THE CIRCUS MAXIMUS.

ROME, ITALY (WEDNESDAY OF RACE WEEK).

Illuminated by the diffused orange glow of the setting Italian sun the stadium looked exactly like the famous Roman chariot-racing arena - a gigantic oval-shaped racetrack, flanked on the outer circ.u.mference by mammoth grandstands; all of it built in a faux-Roman style on a stretch of flat reclaimed land on the western coast of Italy, not far from Rome.

The only difference between this and the Circus Maximus of old was the scale.

Each of its two straights was 12 kilometres long - so that it would take the average hover car roughly two minutes to complete each lap, one minute for each straight.

Red neon signs for the 'Circus Maximus Beer Co.' blazed out from the upper flanks of the stadium.

Before a cheering, heaving, thriving crowd of 2 million spectators - all of them fuelled on free beer - two tiny hover cars lined up on the grid.

Fabian's purple-and-gold Renault Tricolore-VII, known as the Ma.r.s.eilles Falcon.

And beside it: the Argonaut, looking resplendent in spanking-new coats of white, silver and blue paint. Plus one new feature: its tailfin was now painted in Lombardi black-and-yellow.

Just before the race, Jason and Fabian posed for photos on the track - the modern-day charioteers standing beside their chariots, holding their helmets, flanked by bikini-clad girls and beer company executives, in front of the baying crowd.

By the look on his face, Fabian was clearly pleased by the extra attention the young Chaser boy was bringing to his exhibition event. That today, August 6, also happened to be Jason's 15th birthday was a bonus - the media had painted Fabian as a man giving a boy the most incredible birthday opportunity ever.

For his part, as he stood beside Fabian, smiling for the cameras, Jason eyed the Ma.r.s.eilles Falcon and its notorious nosewing.

Fabian's car featured a controversial 'bladed' nosewing. Two vertical fins jutted upward from the outer tips of its nosewing, their forward edges as sharp as knives, hence the term 'bladed'. Renault claimed the sharpness was simply aerodynamic. Other racers claimed Fabian used his bladed fins to damage their cars in the rough-and-tumble of racing. For the moment, the fins were allowed by the governing body of racing, the International Hover Car Racing a.s.sociation. But every racer knew - stay away from them.

The photo session ended, and Fabian jumped into his car.

Jason, however, dashed to his pi

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