McConnell, sensing he had a live one, encouraged me to "take on a position" in an existing game instead of waiting until he had enough players to start a new one. I bit. Hard. My first Raceplan installment arrived a week later, and I found out why McConnell had been so eager for me to take on an existing position: The position sucked.
Each of the 26 cars on the grid—13 two-car teams—was rated (excellent, good, average, poor or obsolete) for each performance spec. My chassis-and-engine package was obsolete in five categories, poor in five more and average in the rest. My two drivers were out to lunch. In the preseason race at Brands Hatch, one of them crashed, and the other bid the race adieu with an engine problem while running a scintillating 17th.
I cleaned house ruthlessly. Before the season opener in Australia (Race-plan games are run every two weeks, and they follow the track sequence of the F/1 season, though not necessarily the exact schedule), I switched designers and commissioned a new chassis. After the second race, in Brazil, I booted my top driver and "signed" Chance Allison, a free agent I named after a character in the racing novel I'm trying to sell. Still, I careened from failure to failure, bottoming out in Canada, where Allison and Steve Robinson—my carryover slug—both wrecked the cars before mid-race.
I took solace in McConnell's Yoda-like advice (13.0, Hints and Tips): "Be philosophical. Raceplan is a simulation of real-life motor racing, and strange things do happen. Leaders do blow up at the last corner. Teammates do collide at the first corner. Sometimes you'll get lucky; sometimes you won't. But you've got to take the [bad] with the [good]."
I soon settled into a routine: When my Raceplan envelope arrived, I would turn on my telephone answering machine, clear my desk and murmur a little prayer—nothing extravagant, just your basic "Look, Big Fella, I know I've been a little bit remiss about this whole religion thing, but do you think you could maybe find it in your heart to let one of my guys finish on the podium? Just this once? If it's not too much to ask?"
Then I'd sit down with the lap-by-lap recap of the race, spit out by a computer that plotted the positions of all 26 cars on the track at 3.6-second intervals. I savored each line as if it were the dactylic hexameter of Homeric verse. ("Past these they raced, one escaping, one in pursuit....") In my mind's eye, I conjured up every pass, every missed gear, every botched pit stop. Later, when I'd run out of epithets, Homeric and otherwise, I started planning my strategy for the next race.
For each Grand Prix, I had to decide the speed at which my drivers would take individual corners, their wing settings, how much fuel they'd carry, how many pit stops they'd make, whether they'd indulge in kamikaze-style, late-braking maneuvers. Armed with a calculator and graph paper, I forecast tire wear, fuel consumption, top speed, you name it.
I went a bit crazy at Monaco, choosing a very risky one-stop strategy, and Robinson, my No. 2 driver, rewarded me by finishing sixth and scoring my first world championship point. This modest success inspired me to work even harder. Unread magazines piled up in teetering stacks. Every night after dinner, I would retire to my office to "catch up on some work," as I put it. My girlfriend would roll her eyes and mutter scathing comments that I pretended not to hear.
My new regimen produced back-to-back fourth-place finishes, at Hockenheim and the Hungaroring. But all the money I spent tweaking my car drained my Raceplan budget, and my progress stalled. Inexorably, my team sank back into the mediocrity from whence it had come. After a dreadful performance in the year-ender at Suzuka, I was ready to admit that, yeah, maybe Frank Williams had some things I didn't have: brains, for starters.
My manic phase gave way to post-Raceplan depression. I stopped conducting after-dinner analyses of races past. And suddenly, amazingly, I found time to read Lord Jim. I caught up with The New Republic's take on the presidential election. O.K., so it was eight months after the fact. The point was, I was in control. I was taking back the night. Raceplan? I didn't need no stinking Raceplan.