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Finding Ivan, in Bruges

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We (the Producers of Manual for Speed) need to register with the race organizers for press credentials, vehicle stickers and to get a map of the course. The press office opens the day before the race in an ancient building off a square in the center of a town called Bruges. Next to the ancient medieval press office, is yet another impressive building this one with a clock tower, the same clock tower made famous (infamous?) in a recent Colin Farrell movie called (wait for it) In Bruges. This last fact is wholly irrelevant except to say that everything we are parking in, walking through and looking for in order to find this office is ancient, noteworthy and stunning in a fairy tale and castle-y-type way.

Here is a short list of our immediate concerns:

1. We do not speak Flemish.
2. We do not speak French.
3. We are not accredited AP photographers.
4. We are not pre-registered.
5. We are not in their “system.” Not even a little bit.
6. We do not have a driver.
7. We have never driven the course.
8. We are not familiar with the course in any way. Not even academically.

We have been told that seeing the race more than once is difficult to impossible. At best, we are told, we may see the race two to three times. We do not have an arsenal of digital cameras equipped with long-to-pornographically-long lenses swinging from our necks, nor are we wearing vests and carrying helmets, thus we do not look the part.

The race “office” is basically two folding tables end-to-end behind which are a number of cardboard boxes, stacks of laminated cards, color-coded stickers in various sizes, and a gorgeous young woman wearing leopard skin tights and a slinky designer boat-neck top. She speaks English well enough for us to understand immediately and unequivocally just how ridiculous our slapdash request for passes is. For the next hour we stay rooted (fixed and pressing) to our spot on floor and adopt a necessarily oblique, circuitous and strategically disorganized manner of argument and case making. We basically stonewall and lie and smile and do everything possible to not not-get passes. And we do, more or less.

We are given the Green (limited) Press Credentials, not the Red (everywhere including the finish line) Press Credentials, and no driving or parking stickers. On our way out, a man named Christopher hands us our packets and a course map. We like him at once and so we ask him to look for a moment at our map with us. With a pen he begins to circle key sections of the course as well as recommend a driving strategy. We ask him, speaking of driving strategies, if he has a relative or friend that might be available to drive us during the race, which race, incidentally, begins in less than 14 hours.

Incredulous at first it dawns on Christopher, though slowly, we are serious. He motions for us to wait while he places a phone call. After several outgoing and incoming calls we are given a complicated and irregular string of numbers, which numbers lead to a call with Ivan pronounced Yvonne. Ivan is one of Christopher’s drinking buddies and he would be honored, he explains in relatively good English, to drive us, for money and/or sport.

He is a truck driver by trade and yes he would be willing to speed and break most traffic laws, as well as tweak race pursuit customs and fan mores.

The next morning at 8:00am in front of the medieval race we meet Ivan. He is carrying a plastic shopping bag (here’s to drinking buddies!!!) in which are the good Red Press Passes, a parking pass, and a windshield press pass which unofficially allows us to drive on the course. Inside the press office, at a table, over coffee, we lay out the course map. Ivan makes some notes, does some math in his head and sips coffee for a few moments before looking up from the map. Six times.

He says provided we’re fast, focused and lucky, we will see the race six times.

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