Garry’s 2017 Auckland SuperSprint Report
Heading to New Zealand is always exciting and certainly over the past four seasons with Scotty McLaughlin the excitement and interest was enhanced.
This year we head there with GT and Moff. I would like to acknowledge and congratulate Moff on reaching 100 Supercar round starts this weekend, a great effort. The Pukekohe circuit is an exciting and fast 2.9km race track with eleven corners and many opportunities to pass and has traditionally provided some entertaining racing.
The trip to New Zealand begins the weekend before the racing as the cars are delivered to Avalon airport (Melbourne) and air freighted to Auckland. What’s a race report without referring to Joey (Joe Sullivan Transporter Driver). As mentioned in previous reports Joe’s three least favourite meets are Sandown, Phillip Island and Pukekohe and the reason is he gets to spend very little time behind the wheel of our Volvo Globetrotter FH16 700hp prime mover. But, this year was even worse as Joe had travelled to Sydney for the Muscle Car Masters and wasn’t present to drive the Globetrotter to Avalon. As an old truckie I thought I might drive the transporter to Avalon. Yes! I do have my truck licence and back in 1980’s I was head transporter driver, number 1 mechanic, team manager, marketing manager and chef. Gee I was good, we now travel with 25! As quick as I suggested I drive the truck to the airport the boys reminded me I have trouble parking my little hatchback and Gypsy (Jeff Marshall) kindly offered to take time out on his weekend with his family to get the cars to Avalon. Gypsy, is our Chief Engine man and he has been with GRM since 1999. Gypsy was a qualified mechanic and specialised in engine building, yet we employed him as our transporter driver and he did other odd jobs in within the team. Gypsy soon weaved his way out of the truck and into the engine room and was a big part of the Monaro 24hr successes in 2002 and 2003 and is an extremely well regarded and respected member of GRM and Supercars. Anyway, thanks for driving the truck to Avalon Gyps!
At most race meetings it is Barry and I travelling together but on this occasion, we were joined by Kaye (my wife) and my granddaughter, Gracie. Following the race weekend Kaye and I are heading south to Wanaka (South Island) for a fundraiser known as “The Old Geezers Night” which is a charity night that raises money for the local hospital and Barry is taking his daughter to Auckland to the jump off the Sky Tower for her 16th birthday.
First, we were looking to show some serious improvement in our racing from the previous round. The Pukekohe event is 2x200 km races each with a qualifying prior. Friday consists of 2x45 minute practice sessions and these sessions were quite important to assess the re-surfacing works that had taken place in recent works. The circuit had re-surfacing at turn 1 which was to eliminate the “bump” as you approached this turn. I’m not sure if many of you remember but the circuit was known for the “big bump” as a driver approached turn 1 and it was a skill to not only enter the corner correctly but have the car set up to accommodate this bump. Other resurfacing works were completed along the back straight and between turns 9 and 10 after the hairpin.
Following practice, we were reasonably satisfied where we were positioned within the field although our position on the charts may not have shown that with the cars in 16th and 19th and a 5+/10ths off the quickest car of Cam waters (Prodrive). The reason we were “happier” than the times showed was because we knew from our sector splits of individual laps that we were closer to 2-3/10ths off the pace not 5/10ths. During practice it is important to try different set ups with the car with the aim of working to the ideal set up with time to put together a simulated qualifying run at the end of the session. The tyre allocation for New Zealand is different to Australia. In Australia we can use as many pre-marked tyres that we choose in practice and these can often be new/green tyres that have been saved from previous race meetings when rain or a crash has meant that you haven’t used all the slick tyres allocated. In NZ we are given 8 sets of tyres per car on Friday that are for the entire weekend and can be used as we like. During practice on our simulated qualifying runs, or “chest beaters” as Krusty (Richard Hollway) likes to refer to them as both boys made little mistakes costing at least a couple of tenths. If we wanted to beat our chests Stiffy (Stefan Millard – Team Mgr) could instruct he crews to bolt on new tyres and go again, but it is pointless using up tyres when you know that you are in a reasonable speed window.
Unfortunately, Saturday was the first time in recent history when qualifying had to be cancelled due to the track conditions. It was a combination of things that led to the cancellation of practice after only a few minutes and only half of the field had completed flying laps. The weather had deteriorated, and the rain combined with the newly asphalted surface, particularly along the rear straight was causing the cars to aquaplane. It appeared the surface on the rear straight was quite different to that at turn 1 and between turns 9&10. The rear straight was very smooth, not dissimilar to polished concrete and oil leaching from the surface combined with the wet surface made the track extremely dangerous. With the cancellation of qualifying and the fact that not every car was able to complete a qualifying lap the race stewards made a decision to award qualifying positions as per Friday practice order. Of course, we were disappointed with this, but understood that the positions had to decided based on something.
As the time drew closer to the race start and the rain was continuing there were doubts as to whether the race would take place. It was decided that if by 3.20pm the conditions had not improved then the race would be postponed until Sunday. Thankfully the drizzle eased, and a slight breeze came in. As the cars exited pit lane at 3.45pm all were on wet weather tyres, but the track continued to dry and by race start the entire field were on slick tyres. This seemed unimaginable 20 minutes earlier, who said “if you don’t like Melbourne weather then wait 30 minutes”, wow you can change that to 20 minutes and Pukekohe!
We certainly had confidence that our speed was better than where were starting and that showed from the start and by the end of the first round of pit stops GT was 9th (from 16th) and Moff was also on the move in 16th. Whincup (888) led from McLaughlin (DJR Penske) and Van Gisbergen (888). The 200 klm race required a minimum fuel drop of 120 litres which would take a combined time of 30 seconds over two pitstops.
The second and likely final stop for the cars occurred on lap 33 when Courtney (Walkinshaw) went in to tyre wall at turn 3. Garth pitted first and Moff was able to get around the circuit uninhibited by the Safety Car to pit the following lap without the necessity to queue behind the #33. On the restart GT was 8th and Moff 15th. Van Gisbergen and his crew had done a great job to get him to the front so too had the Prodrive team to have Winterbottom 2nd and McLaughlin had passed Whincup to be third. These changes in position all occurred during the pit stops under the Safety Car period and were a combination of great teamwork throughout the pitstops, the amount of fuel needed and the ability of the driver to do a quick in lap while others are in the pit. All of this added together can be equate to tenths and sometimes seconds that enable a car to exit the pit ahead of those that were earlier in front of them. The race continued on in that order until lap 55 when Coulthard (DJR Penske) was on his roof as he tried to take advantage of Mostert slowing after taking Reynolds (Erebus) off the track at the hairpin (turn 8). This again triggered the Safety Car and the race was shortened by 4 laps. Van Gisbergan won from Winterbottom and McLaughlin. GT came home a very worthy 7th and Moff after starting 19th was 13th. As an old “hoon” I did enjoy seeing the smoke, smelling the rubber and hearing the noise of Van Gisbergan’s celebrations, but I’m glad I wasn’t the one having scrape the rubber from under the car or replace the melted ¼ panels! A well-deserved win.
Saturday and rather than battle our way out of the muddy carpark we walked into “Pukey” and luckily straight in to the Edinburgh Hotel for two beautiful beers! The crew had dinner at the track, tidied the cars up and left the set up until Sunday morning. On returning to the Motel the guys (and Sally – PR person) were playing cricket with the headlights of the rental cars providing light. I tried to join in but couldn’t see a thing, yet I really enjoy seeing the Team having a laugh and being able to relax together after a days racing. Following the cricket game and as it was Guy Fawkes weekend the guys let a few fireworks off, again a lot of fun and laughter and more importantly no injuries!
Sunday, and luckily Barry and Grace had run to the track and collected the car and came back to pick me up from the Motel. Today was a very special day, not just for the racing but it was Krusty’s birthday and we had got him his favourite strawberry cheesecake. Happy 52nd Krusty!
Qualifying and thankfully clear skies and a little warmth in the air. The session was 20 minutes and each car had three green sets of tyres. Following the second green run Moff and Garth were both in the Top 10, and with the cars all exiting pit lane for the final run as the clock counted down, the sun came out. When the sun is out rather than having cloud cover the track becomes a little slower. As the cars went around on their flying laps nobody was improving until the 11th placed Van Gisbergen jumped 4 spots to 7th pushing GT back to 11thand Moff 9th. Whincup pipped McLaughlin for pole. Our speed was about where we had earlier thought and both Moff and Garth were 3+/10ths off pole.
After qualifying I took a walk across the paddock to the Formula 5000 pits to look at the open wheelers that ran back in the 1970’s. I was always fascinated by these cars and admired their noise and speed and saw their drivers as heroes. One of those drivers was Kenny Smith who I thought was “old” in the mid ‘70’s yet he is still roaring around in a 5000 today at the age of 75. Wait a minute he is only 3 years older than me, gee I’m looking good!
Race time and as much as I and all of our Team would like to see the cars further up, it was a positive to see the cars in 9th and 11th and I believed that through some clever driving and solid teamwork that we could have both finish further up. That is exactly what happened, and GT came home 6th and Moff 9th. The race was won by Whincup from McLaughlinand Cam Waters (Prodrive) was third. Sorry for the rush on this paragraph, but I need to board my plane!
MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT: reaching the pub in Pukey for the two beers!
MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT: realising I’m only 3 years younger than Kenny Smith.
I can’t wait to get to Newcastle!!