Today we were due to spend the day in Quito starting off at the polytechnic university (UPS) where we would meet the press and a large group of students, followed by a display of the car in the local (and very smart) shopping mall with KPMG. The day was planned to finish at 6 after which we would be taken for some dinner and dancing in the old town centre. In retrospect, if any day could have gone less to plan, I certainly can’t think of it…
Everything was pretty normal up until around 11am. There was a huge crowd of people attending the viewing of the car at the university, and we had made a presentation which was very well received. The weather, despite the predictions of rain, was holding up brilliantly, and the day seemed like it would be a walk in the park. We turned on the car, and Nik took it out and drove around it around a basketball court to demonstrate how quick and quiet the car was, and then the unthinkable happened…
He crashed! While demonstrating to the crowd and trying to brake a little harder than the not-so-grippy surface would allow, the wheels locked up and he slammed into a wall at around 25km/h. For some reason, the crowd cheered, but as you may imagine, the team were less than amused! We immediately went into action and checked that the car was safely shut down before inspecting the damage.
It was one of the worst feelings each of us had ever encountered, seeing something which we had lovingly built and driven for so long, smashed up against a wall. The car had hit at an angle, with the left side taking the full brunt of the crash. The front bodywork was severely damaged, as was the front splitter which had its left side completely decimated. We all felt sick.
The team’s reaction was absolutely priceless though. Our attitude was instantly that the car could be fixed. After all, it’s only fibreglass and metal, and seeing as we built it, we were confident we could fix it! There was no shouting or ganging up on Nik, who had immediately apologised to the team, and we instantly got to work assessing the damage, and working out how we would manage an extended stay in Quito; where would we stay? Where could we fix the car? People further down the route needed to be alerted and events postponed…there was a lot to get done aside from getting the car fixed!
The reaction from the university, KPMG, and the British embassy was equally reassuring; they made it explicitly clear that anything we could possibly need, they would help us with. It was great knowing that despite the awful situation, our sponsors and supporters were still 100% behind us. So, with the massive crowd around us, and the country’s media looking on, we pulled the car away from the wall and got down to peeling off the bodywork to ascertain what damage had been done internally.
Initially we had fears that the chassis would have failed in some way, the main concern being the suspension hard points, or that the electrics may have been badly damaged. However, it immediately became clear that our fears were not justified; the impact attenuator had done a fantastic job at cushioning the blow, and the chassis as well as the electrics were completely unaffected. The left suspension was damaged to some extent, with the wishbones clearly being damaged. We needed to wait until we were in a garage before we could dismantle the suspension and make a more thorough inspection.
Certainly the car was fixable and we were looking on the bright side. Nik was not injured, and fortunately no one was involved in the crash; the mere thought of this potential outcome sent shivers down our spines! In fact, Clemens was in the crash path, but managed to jump aside just in time. So now, with the job being purely a mechanical one, we began piecing together how we were going to approach fixing the car.
Fortunately, and I can not emphasise how fortunate this was, we had Sebastian Moreno with us; the race car driver who had travelled with us since Pasto. His reaction, like ours, was that we could get it fixed fast, and he instantly put his full weight behind finding a solution to the problems. Using his extensive network of contacts, he located the owner of a Radical car here in Quito, and organised through this guy the use of a workshop and a flatbed truck to get the car there.
While he was organising all of this, we were busy removing the front bodywork, impact attenuator and splitter, and implementing a makeshift solution to fix the suspension well enough for the car to be able to role around and ride on the back of the flatbed. I have to say, with the damaged components off, the car still looked like it was going to conquer the Pan-American Highway; all it needed was a few new components to bring it back to its former glory! This instantly gave us a fresh wave of energy and optimism, and by the time the flatbed had arrived, we were ready to load it up and take the SRZero to its new temporary home.
A short drive through the streets of Quito took us to a light industrial facility where we had kindly been loaned the use of a workshop. It was, at the time, being used as storage for various things, but within minutes, Sebastian had managed to organise a forklift to move all the stuff out, and the team got to work getting the car off the flatbed and into the garage. Meanwhile, I made a call back to Radical in the UK, informing them of the situation and advising them that we may need some new parts sent out from one of their distributors in the US.
Back in the garage, we jacked the car up, took off the wheels, and had a closer look at the suspension. In general, it all looked fine except the upper and lower wishbones. The upper one was only very marginally damaged; we could probably still use it, however the lower wishbone had been damaged beyond repair. So, the initial prognosis was good, and we were looking forward to the next day whereby we would be able to meet with a fibreglasser who may be able to fix the bodywork and splitter, and to talk to other people from who we may be able to source the suspension components from faster than ordering them from the US or UK. All in all, there was a very can-do attitude all round, we were were hellbent on getting it fixed as soon as possible!
However, with all our afternoon events having been cancelled, we were eager to ensure that we didn’t miss our evening commitments. So, when we had finished at the garage, we drove over to the university where we met a whole bunch of people there including Monica, our main contact at the university, and other members of staff. They had hired a mini bus to take us to the old city, and from what we had heard, it was a beautiful place to visit. So, trying our best to put behind us the day’s misery, we set about driving through the streets of Quito.
On the way through the city, we saw a number if beautiful buildings, most of them churches built over hundreds of years. After winding our way through the streets, we stopped at the entrance to the old city where cars are forbidden to drive. We entered on La Calle de Ronda, one of the main streets intersecting the old city, and we strolled up towards our restaurant.
Way back in Colombia, we were impressed with the colonial-style city of Cartagena, but we were always frustrated with how touristy it was; there was always someone trying to sell you something or to drag you into some restaurant. Here however, it was a different story. For a start, the architecture was far more beautiful and kept in a very good condition, and it was completely genuine!
Our restaurant was equally charming, and with a live folk band playing on the balcony, to which we later danced to with everyone from the university, we enjoyed a delicious meal of local cuisine. Despite the day’s massive shock, the good food and company was enough to help us forget about it for a short while, and the whole evening was truly enjoyable!
Nonetheless, the lingering problem of how we were going to fix the car quickly and safely was hanging over our heads, and we went back to the hotel deep in thought as to how we were going to approach the multiple problems we faced. Despite being a Friday night, there was no going out for us; we needed all the sleep and energy we could get for the coming days.
I would like to extend our massive thanks and gratitude to all that helped us on this day. Without you, we would have been in a far darker situation. Particular thanks go out to Sebastian and Monica who really made things happen we needed them to!