Garry’s 2017 Gold Coast 600 Report
Supercars is no different to life, you must move on. Enough has been said about Bathurst, yet the work at GRM to prepare for the Gold Coast 600 has been all-out since returning from the Mountain to have the cars ready.
Joey got away from Dandenong South mid-afternoon on Monday, arriving on the Gold Coast early Wednesday.
The Gold Coast event certainly has a buzz around it and the street circuit location adjacent to the Pacific Ocean makes for a fabulous setting. The circuit is 3 kilometres (2984 metres) in length with fifteen corners and plenty of concrete. Circuits like this can result in considerable damage to cars if they contact with the concrete barriers, but from a purist’s point of view a driver should be penalised if they make a mistake. Many modern-day race circuits, as much as they are tremendously safe don’t tend to penalise driver errors. Street circuits are unforgiving, and mistakes can be costly.
Unfortunately, Friday practice saw us witness this first hand as Moff made slight contact with the left-hand side concrete barrier as he approached turn 11 sending him head on into the tyre barrier at turn 11. This resulted in considerable front end damage, particularly to the right-hand corner. Without going into all the detail, I can only say how proud and appreciative I am of all the GRM Team who without hesitation began stripping the damaged bodywork and associated components to assess their ability to have the car repaired. It’s very easy for me, because I am of absolutely no help to the guys these days and I’m better off getting out of their way. All the guys did their bit and it is moments like this where true teamwork is required as crews from both sides of the garage galvanise as one to get the job done. I really don’t like individualising people as it is a team effort to get a badly damaged car up for the next day, but I would like to acknowledge the skills of Squiddy (Mitch Feeney) who is a fabricator back at the workshop and looks after tyres at the race circuit. Squiddy’s fabrication skills were vital if there was any chance of getting the #34 repaired.
On returning to the track at 7.00am the next morning and winding the awning up to the temporary pit facility we have on the Gold Coast, it was like the “magic fairies” had been and there sat the #34 car looking like “new”. I discovered later as the boys started rolling in that the job wasn’t completed until 5.50am and I struggle to verbalise my exact appreciation for their effort. The endeavours of all Teams that race in our Championship are often overlooked or taken for granted, but I can assure you that as Australian’s we should all be so proud of the ability and work ethic of our people.
The Gold Coast 600 is 2x300km races. The co-drivers must do a minimum 34 of the 102 laps and a minimum of two pit stops is required to take on the required fuel to complete the race. The weather on Friday was sunny, but the forecast looked gloomy for Saturday. The repairs required to the #34 was a setback on Friday, but so to our lack of speed throughout the three Friday practice sessions finishing in 19thand 20th. Unfortunately, this set the tone for our weekend. Qualifying Saturday and the weather had turned grey and the track was wet. As much as we were still off the pace Garth managed 15th and Moff like Friday was 19th. Mostert (Prodrive) was quickest from Whincup (888) and Slade (BJR) third. Race time and it was like a repeat of Bathurst with the track wet, yet the rain was more a mist than a downpour. As usual everyone becomes a meteorologist and with no paddocks in the vicinity for me to look at the horses I was unable to give my expert advice as to what the weather was going to do. The amount of rain predicted does impact what the tyre pressures are set at. In simple terms the wetter the track the higher the pressure in the tyres as this assists the tyre in gaining heat and therefore grip, but if it’s anticipated that the track will be wet, but drying the engineers keep the pressures a little lower so as the tyres do not inflate too quickly as the track dries. The effect of tyre pressures is a major variable in the driveability of a race car and miscalculations are costly.
Race 21 of the Championship and the approach by all the teams was to start with the co-drivers in the cars with the objective being for them to complete the compulsory 34 laps before pitting and handing over to the primary driver for the remaining 68 laps. Bieber (James Golding) started very well and by the time he pitted on lap 34 the #33 was in 10th. Lap 34 saw half the field stop with the other half stopping in the following few laps. The most impressive performance of this first stint was Heimgartner (BJR) who mastered the wet conditions and he handed over to Tim Slade with a very handy lead. Lap 58 and the Safety Car was deployed as Lee Holdsworth (Team 18) made heavy contact with a tyre stack at the Beach chicane sending it on to the race line. Teams took this opportunity to pit to fuel up and change tyres for the run home. Following the stop the #33 was 15th and #34 21st. The Safety Car also saw the lead change with Waters and Mostert (Prodrive) both benefiting and passing Slade while the pit stops took place. As the race restarted Moff and Garth both did their best in cars that were no reacting in a manner that gave them confidence and came home in 14th (#33) and 19th(#34) respectively. Mostert passed Waters shortly after the SC restart and went on to win with Slade a very good third.
Saturday night and following any street race and particularly when you are racing in the mid pack there is always work to be done regarding the presentation of the cars as they scuffed and dented as a result of the intense hustle and bustle. Thankfully we did not have any major component or structural damage and the guys were able to get away from the track by 10.00pm.
Sunday and the weather was back to what you expect on the Gold Coast. I was so enthused by the sunshine that I bounced out of bed, put the running gear on and hobbled out on to the streets and headed to the beach for a run. The sand was being manicured by the tractor and the outlook out to the water with the neatly breaking waves made me forget about racing for a moment, until I saw this “man mountain” appear through the white froth of a wave, heading towards the shore as he navigated his way surfing the wave like an experienced ironman. And yes, this man is our ironman, Gypsy (Jeffrey Marshall) our Chief Engine Man who rain, hail or shine takes any opportunity to get his Speedo’s on and have a swim. I continued to make my way along the beach in a walk/run/shuffle but wasn’t as tough as Gypsy and didn’t venture in to the water. The truth is I’m not “too soft”, but I’m worried that if I fell over I wouldn’t be able to get back up and would be washed out into the never never!
The conditions today were the complete opposite to Saturday. Joey and Squiddy (tyre techs.) hustled our wheels down to the Dunlop tent to have the wet tyres removed and slicks fitted. The information gained yesterday was of little significance considering the complete opposite conditions of today. Unfortunately, this did not assist our performance and following qualifying we were in 18th (#33) and 21st (#34) positions. Pole was VanGisbergen (888) followed by his teammate, Whincup.
The Sunday race was a copy of Saturday’s and the co-drivers started in the cars. Off the start it was Dumbrell in the 888 car he shares with Whincup that was best off the start. Both Bieber and Muscat had tough starts. Muscat was hampered by a pre-race two spot penalty after a qualifying indiscretion by Moff, and Bieber was turned around and went to the back of the field. Without going in to a blow, by blow description our day did not improve from here and it is certainly a weekend of racing that I want to forget, yet we all need to learn from. McLaughlin and Premat (DJR Penske) did an outstanding job to win after starting 13th, with Whincup/Dumbrell and VanGisbergen/Campbell completing the podium. Tander/Golding finished 17th and Moffat/Muscat 19th.
As I write this Joey is heading down the highway home. In typical Joey style, who is always thinking ahead and what is required for the team he recruited a driver so as he could “two up” all the way home. Following the Friday crash and the “at race meeting repairs” there is a necessity to complete further repairs to the #34 chassis prior to New Zealand. In normal circumstances Joe wouldn’t arrive back until Wednesday, but “two upping” allows him to get back late tonight and gives the crew an extra 1 ½ days to work on the cars. This was vital as the cars are air freighted to New Zealand this weekend. I would like to thank Donald “Wogga” Wheadon from Colac (Vic) who Joey found on his yearly holiday with a group of his mates. “Wogga” forgave some of the festivities of his annual break so as he would be in the condition required to take control of the Volvo FH16 700hp b-double to help us. Thank you very much “Wogga”, it’s meeting people like you and your kindness that makes me continue doing what I do!
MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT: seeing that man mountain, Gypsy navigate the surf.
MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT: our performance, but we will be back!
I can’t wait to get to Pukekohe!