This was it. This was the moment John Mitchell had been waiting for. His heart was thumping, he could feel it in his temple, could hear his pulse echoing in his ears.
A crackle of static interrupted the rhythm.
“Don’t forget to breathe, Mitch,” came the raspy voice of his engineer.
Mitch gripped the steering wheel tighter, his gloves hiding the white of his knuckles. From fourth on the grid, he had the chance to make up places at the first corner. He had the opportunity to make records. Headlines. He could do it. He could win his debut race.
The first of five lights came on.
He took a deep breath.
Three, and now four.
His leg was shaking. He took that breath again, concentrating on keeping his leg still.
Five lights on, an agonising wait.
The lights were out. Foot down. Go!
The car in front of Mitchell went nowhere, and in an instant, he had jinked left to move around it. Losing time avoiding his stalled rival, he course corrected, desperate to catch the front runners. Glancing in his mirrors, he saw his teammate Bruno Cannelli behind him. He hadn’t lost any places, at least.
They reached the first corner in the blink of an eye, but Mitchell was ready. He waited until the last possible moment, braking hard, turning sharply right. His early jaunt to the left had helped his racing line into the corner and he was sailing round.
Something was wrong though. He didn’t stop turning. Mitch yanked the wheel hard in the opposite direction but his spin continued. He watched a sea of colour flash past him, a spray of gravel, before he came to a stop.
It had happened before he’d had a chance to think, to react. He put his foot down, desperately, but the wheels spun, kicking up a fresh plume of stones. One of them hit his helmet, and Mitch released the pedal.
“It’s over, John,” the engineer said. “Mason kicked you from behind. You had no chance.”
Of all the words, hearing his first name stung more than anything. Bob had taken to calling him Mitch, always. Being referred to as John just hammered in the defeat.
Mitch climbed out of the car, ripping off his gloves and removing the steering wheel. The marshals were already beside him, signalling for the tractor to help them. He jogged to a gap in the tyre barrier, negotiated the catch fencing, and within minutes, he was on the back of a scooter.
Outside his garage, the media were already gathering. Mitch spotted Melissa from BSN News, preparing her microphone to grab a word with him. The scooter pulled to a stop, and Mitch stood up, stepping away from the bike.
Further up the pit lane, a car was pulling in, and Mitch ignored the calls from his team wall as he took in what was happening. After studying the front of the car for a good few seconds, the mechanics waved away a potential new front nose and signalled that the race was over.
Mason Mortimer hauled himself out of the cockpit, his shoulders slumped in that familiar way. Mitch gritted his teeth. His team were still beckoning for him to come and talk to them, but in just a few strides, he could face up to the driver who had knocked him out of his very first race at the very first corner.
What should Mitch do?