From heartbreak to hero: A young man's decision to make a dream come true

As automotive enthusiasts, we’ve all had fleeting thoughts of racing glory. Be it the joy of smoking a nearby driver to the next stop light, keeping a vehicle running for the duration of a 24 Hours of LeMons contest, or jumping into the spotlight of professional road racing. While the first two items I just mentioned are quite possible, it’s the third one that proves a hell of a lot more difficult. There’s serious time, money, determination, skill, and luck involved, and it all has to come together at the right time and place.

Our story here starts at the wrong time… heartbreak.

Rin Hortulanus is a young chap living in Amsterdam, and his Volkswagen Polo is stuffed to the gills with all of his belongings. His live-in girlfriend decided to call it quits… because she was banging her boss. Rin was heartbroken, but smart enough not to hold on to any past feelings. He loaded up the Polo and moved back home.

During that time, Rin was able to realize that a unique opportunity had presented itself. Young Mr. Hortulanus loved motorsports, and had experience scooting his lightly modified Polo around a handful of tracks. He wanted more though, and figured now was the time to pursue a dream. A dream of becoming a licensed racing professional.

Months passed, upgrades to the Polo were performed, and extra money was socked away. New brakes and suspension were a smart move in order to push the car deeper into braking zones, and allow for more speed through corners. A gift of new poly-bushings, ironically provided by the now ex-girlfriend were also added to the sub-compact racer, along with new engine mounts and a beefier front roll bar.

The car was ready, Rin was ready, and a date with destiny was set.

Rin would need to trek to the Zolder circuit in Belgium, and complete a three-day course that covers both written and on-track testing. A lot of coin was shelled out for the course, but Rin still needed a “pit crew” to make sure both he and his Polo stayed on course. Rin enlisted the help of two friends; his cousin Kieran, and a good pal by the name of Cyriel. The friends would journey to Belgium in Rin’s daily-driven Daihatsu, while Rin made the trip in the Polo.

Immediately upon arrival at Zolder, it was apparent that Rin was on the lower-end of the budget spectrum. Besides his Polo, only one other car in attendance was a street-legal vehicle (a Miata). Everyone else rolled up with their track-only machines and faux-Stig mindsets. Regardless, Rin was there to focus on making his dream come true, and he had three days to make it happen.

Day 1

Rain is falling. Zolder is known for being a slippery circuit in such conditions, and the surface responds as everyone expected. Rin handles the rain quite well in his front-wheel-drive Polo, and even produces controlled oversteer during the skidpad portion of his Day 1 testing.

Following the skidpad and wet track laps, Rin moved on to a slalom competition. The event was setup so that a driver would get three runs, and the best of the three would be your result. Rin managed to come in with a tenth place finish, which is mighty impressive considering the field fell 45 deep.

The strong finish provides the perfect capstone to the first day of Rin’s big adventure.

Day 2

The sky over Zolder has cleared, but problems are on the horizon.

Rin started the day by swapping in new brake pads, and the result was an instant improvement to fade-free braking. The little Polo could stop effortlessly all day long now, but the engine decided to act up a bit. While waiting to start his slalom run, Rin noticed that the car was firing on just three cylinders. Luckily, he was able to reset the ECU using an app on his Android phone, and the car was now running more smoothly. From there, it was time to move into an open track session, dry pavement, and great brakes.

Unfortunately, this is the part of the story where disaster strikes.

While running down the back straight at over 90 miles per hour, the driveshaft on the Polo decided to call it quits. Rin isn’t prepared for this occurrence, to say the least. He is hundreds of miles away from home, all the junk yards are closed for the day, and he happened to pay a shit-ton of money just for this opportunity. The Polo gets towed off the track, and it appears that there’s simply more heartbreak in store for Rin Hortulanus.

Meet Steve van der Plank. He owned a garage on site, and he’s apparently allergic to tales of heartbreak. Mr. van der Plank checked his shop for a driveshaft, but the only one that came close to fitting was 20 mm too large. Still, the kindhearted man told Rin that if he could find the part, then it would be installed, no problem.

Rin phoned up his pal Cyriel who was back at the hotel with Kiernan, and the pair sprung into action. Six calls were placed, with six negative results. A seventh call was then placed to a shop that was listed as an Audi parts warehouse. Immediately, the person on the other end of the line exclaims that his number is wrongly listed on Google. Cyriel is persistent though, and asks the random person if they have a driveshaft for a 1997 Volkswagen Polo. He does not… but he happens to be at a friends house, which happens to contain said part, and it can be their part for 40 Euros.

Allow me to get all Ferris Bueller-screw-the-fourth-wall for a moment: Are you fucking kidding me!? OK, back to the story.

The part is picked up, and the Polo goes under the wrench at the hands of Mr. van der Plank. Rin tried to offer this grease-covered angel some money, but he was having none of it. All he wanted in return was to place two stickers (http://sp-support.nl/) on the Polo. Hilariously enough, Rin views the move as his first sponsorship.

We’d feel the same way. (Who wants to sponsor a LeMons car?)

While the Polo is being brought back to life, the young men head over to the paddock for and end-of-day briefing. As the speaker relays the results of the slalom, Rin is a bit beside himself.

Third place. (Well, technically fourth place, but the first place finisher was a Porsche GT3 RS that left early to acquire new tires… his loss).

And you thought Day 1 ended well…

Day 3

The morning begins with Rin and his gang checking in on the Polo. The car is fixed, and ready to go. Rin takes the car out on the track to check things out, and notices right away that something is wrong. The left side is producing a vibration, and when Rin brings the car back to Steve, it’s decided that they will reinspect the driveshaft and grease up the CV.

As that is being sorted, Rin heads into take the written portion of his testing. He’s nervous, the last person to finish, and is worried about his car the entire time. Rin leaves the testing room as Cyriel walks up to him and tosses him the keys to the Polo. Cyriel just took it for a spin, and everything is working perfectly.

The dream is still alive… but it’s getting drowned out by noise at the moment.

The exhaust on the Polo has developed a hole, which means the Polo has developed an auditory situation. During the end of his pre-race practice laps, Rin receives a black flag. The track decibel level is 95db, and the Polo was burping out 96db of noise.

One.F&*cking.Decibel.

There’s thirty minutes left on the clock before Rin has to start the final driving portion of his exam, and he won’t be allowed on track unless he can fix the exhaust. Do you think he gives up? Of course not!

Rin’s father has arrived for the final day of testing and, along with his friends, the group fashion a can of Fanta, exhaust tape, and metallic zip ties into a solution. The Polo is once again quiet, and Rin is allowed to run in the final on-track portion of testing. It’s time to suit up and drive.

During the warm-up lap, Rin has the car running well and, importantly, it’s running quietly. The race begins, and our fearless hero is leading the way in front of a BMW 325is. The Polo pulls away, but the BMW catches up during braking, which means Rin has to brake harder and later. The problem is… the car is once again getting loud, and then it happens. 

Car 41, the hero’s car, has been black flagged for noise. Rin’s day is done. In his disappointment, Rin lets the trailing BMW catch up and pass him. Rather than accept the pass, our wheelman  realizes he has a lot of track left until he has to pit, and passes the BMW just for good measure. After that, the Volkswagen Polo makes its way back into the pits, and its engine is shut down for the last time this weekend.

Rin completed two full laps before he was pulled off the track. He would have to wait three hours to see if those two laps were enough to show the instructors that he knows how to handle himself out on the track.

Closing Ceremonies

The track is closed, the cars are parked, and many eager faces are waiting for the results to spill forth. Among those faces is Rin Hortulanus. One of those in charge is listing names, and pass-fail results. As the list rolls forward, Rin hears his name spoken, and it’s quickly followed by “Theory exam, EU license… pass”.

The room gets dusty for Rin. He did it. Mr. Hortulanus is now a fully-licensed racecar driver.

That’s not all though, because there are trophies to be handed out. Rin is still over the moon from hearing that he passed his test, that he almost misses out on another tidbit. The speaker just announced that Rin received a trophy for second place overall. Forty-five drivers in a variety of machines, and our hero is walking away with a second-place finish and an EU racing license.

Rin is a true hoon who followed his dreams, and he’s proof that doing so can payoff.

You can check out The Car Lounge to see how his story unfolded (we turned the saga into Cliff’s notes for you here), and come back tomorrow for our brief interview with the man himself.

[Images courtesy of Rin Hortulanus]

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