Garry’s 2017 Newcastle Race Report

Another year of Supercars is done and for all my girls and guys I am so thankful that we even made the start line at the beginning of the season, let alone compete at a very respectable level on most occasions.

I am extremely appreciative of the continued support of our sponsor group led by the Wilson Group (Security, Parking and Storage), PAYCE and of course Valvoline the world’s best oil! It was a very big call for our sponsors to trust that we would make the 2017 start line and not only make up the numbers but be competitive. Thank you!

The final event of the year was the inaugural event in Newcastle and what a fabulous location. The Newcastle Street Circuit is a 2.6-kilometre race track that weaves its way around 12 corners in the streets of Newcastle and has significant elevation changes while enjoying some of the best coastal views Australia has to offer. I’ve been in this business a long time and I have never been more impressed with a Supercar event. There is no doubt that the Adelaide Street Race set the bar for city street races that Gold Coast, Townsville and now Newcastle have followed and in this instance, I believe Newcastle have raised the bar to a new level. Events like this don’t just happen and the input of Supercar management led by James and Kurt Sakzewski spending the past 12 months in Newcastle managing the works required to complete the circuit along with other civil improvements to the city is certainly appreciated. But, none of this would ever have got off the ground if it wasn’t for the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Nuatali Neimes. Her vision and determination were certainly a driving factor behind this event. Well done.

Joey left GRM last Monday lunchtime and arrived in Newcastle Tuesday before spending Wednesday washing and polishing the Volvo Globetrotter FH16 700, it’s the last road trip of 2017. As I have often stated in previous reports this truck means the world to Joe and even after 45 plus years of travelling the highways, driving prime movers to race meetings Joey will be itching to pack the truck and head to Adelaide come 2018. Thank you, Joey, for getting our precious cargo to each race meeting safely and on time, and as importantly treating the equipment with the upmost respect and always presenting our truck and trailer in a manner that we are all proud of.

I had never been to Newcastle prior to arriving Wednesday and immediately felt the excitement and anticipation of the weekend ahead. The taxi driver that took Barry and I into town was the most excitable, talkative and informative fellow who was certainly doing his best to welcome the influx of people to Newcastle. If you ever make it Newcastle which I would highly recommend try and find “Mac” the taxi driver, you will be “pumping” by the time you travel from the airport to the city. This same attitude was prevalent throughout Newcastle and there was certainly an air of excitement as the weekend drew closer.

Thursday afternoon and I thought that I would join the drivers and engineers on the track walk. At each race meeting a walk of the track is completed, but in this instance with it being the first time we race here I thought my expertise would have been appreciated. How wrong I can be!

Thursday night and Sally, the drivers, Barry and I attended a Valvoline function on the boardwalk and again the excitement of the people in attendance was motivational for all of us. I like to think that I never forget that what we do is very special, but there are times that you do probably take for granted how fortunate we are to travel the country racing Supercars, but when you see people so excited and asking questions with smiles all over their faces you soon realise the happiness that Supercars brings to so many. After a few beers and everybody taking a guess at the best lap time for Friday practice we headed off to bed.

Friday and with 2x40 minute practice sessions it would be vital to not waste any time and Stiffy (Stefan Millard - Team Mgr) had the boys primed for quick, efficient changes when the drivers and engineers wanted change. At the completion of practice, we certainly didn’t feel like we had the set up required and the boys were 8th (GT) and 18th (Moff) with Scotty McLaughlin setting the quickest time and 6/10ths faster than Garth and more than a second ahead of Moff.

Friday night and Krusty (Richard Hollway) and Manuel debriefed with GT and Moff and the consensus was the cars were understeering on entry to a corner which in laymen terms is wanting to go straight ahead and on exit they were prone to oversteer, that is the back wanting to step out. They also focused on what changes may help the entry to turn 11 (hairpin) as the approach to the corner is high speed 200kmh+ and there is quite a big bump in the braking zone that tends to send the car to the right of the track.

Qualifying and the changes made certainly brought Moff and Garth closer to the lead car time wise, but unfortunately this did not show in the starting position. Moff was 3/10ths off the pole time of McLaughlin and GT 4/10ths, but they were in 13th and 16th on the grid. The competitiveness of Supercars was certainly evident with 22 of the 26-car field covered by less than 7/10ths of one second. As a comparison 10 seconds covered the top 8 cars in World Touring Car Qualifying last weekend!

Race 25 and of course much of the talk was the Championship battle between Scotty and Whincup, but we had things to fight for with GT inside the Top 10 and with a good weekend an opportunity to work his way to 6th and GRM sat fourth in the Teams Championship behind DJR Penske, 888 and Prodrive and we needed to defend that position. Of course, many asked me my thoughts on who the Champion would be, and the expected response was Scotty, but I have the utmost respect for what Jamie Whincup has done this season. To be honest at the end of 2016 with Van Gisbergen taking the Championship it felt like a changing of the guard, but Jamie has responded like a true champion does and you cannot help but admire that. But, of course Scotty holds a very special place with me and the GRM Team.

The Newcastle 500 event is 2x250km races. Each car had 3 sets of tyres per race and the fuel requirement was that a minimum of 140 litres of fuel must be put in the cars during the race. With the restrictors on the fuel inlet allowing 4 litres/per sec. to flow the total standing time over two stops to put the 140 litres in is 35 seconds.

Race 25 of the Supercar Championship and off pole Scotty showed a clean set of heels to lead from Reynolds (Erebus) and Van Gisbergen (888). The Safety Car was immediately deployed as Wood (Erebus), Douglas (LDM) and Bright (Prodrive) were in the tyre barrier at turn 8 as they encountered Whincup (888) limping around after making contact with Caruso (Nissan) causing what appeared to be steering damage. This was a significant moment for the Championship. The entire field pitted except for Tim Slade (BJR) and Lowndes (888).

On the restart Slade led from Whincup with Van Gisbergen 3rd and McLaughlin 4th. Moff was 11th and GT 19th after having to stack behind Moff at the stop. Lap 34 and again the SC was called upon as Aaren Russell (LDM) went into the wall at turn 7, yet again the field swarmed in to pit lane. Moff re-joined 9th and GT again was held up and was back in 19th. Still with 61 laps remaining a further stop would be required as the cars use 2.2l per/lap and with a capacity of 109 litres the maximum range is 50 laps. Slade led from Van Gisbergen and McLaughlin.

The final stops began at around lap 48 and when the race settled for the run home it was McLaughlin leading from Reynolds until he unfortunately locked a brake and ran wide, Coulthard had done extremely well throughout the pit stop periods and was progressing through the field, also doing extremely well was Simona De Silvestro who performed more passing moves than anybody. As she looked destined for a top 5 finish and with Sladey hot on her tail, Simona went wide at turn 1 and contacted the wall ending what would have been a tremendous result. Coulthard continued his charge and finished behind McLaughlin with Slade in 4th. Moff was inside the 10 when on lap 53 he got out of shape going down the staircase (turns 7-9) contacting the wall causing steering damage. Moff came straight in and the boys did a great job to change steering and lower control arms and get him back out in time to register what would have been a result except he was taken out by Winterbottom (Prodrive) a couple of laps later. GT pressed on as good as he could finishing 12th. A very disappointing day for us and again it began with qualifying. In retrospect you can look back and analyse things that you would/could do differently. The fact is our strategy was the same as the field and when you qualify poorly you sometimes need to go in a different direction and this is what BJR did with Slade. They kept him out during the first SC period, but he was fortunate to benefit with the second SC period occurring the exact time that he needed to stop, this event led to a podium.

Saturday was a very big day for DJR Penske winning the Teams Championship and Scotty cashing in on Whincup’s mistake turning a 30-point Championship deficit into a lead.

Sunday and the final race of the year. Qualifying was first followed by a Top10 shootout. Again, Moff led the way for GRM but was 4/10ths back and in 14th and GT 19th. Following the shootout, it was Scotty again grabbing the pole from Van Gisbergen with Whincup back in 5th. The math for the Championship was simple. If Whincup managed to win, Scotty would need to finish 11th or better to be crowned Champion. This appeared imminent as he had dominated the weekend so far and again led off the line. We decided to pit GT early (lap 1  to open the strategy for the #33. Stopping so early under green would mean that GT would have to manage his tyres well as the plan was to run him to at least lap 45 and then to home (lap 95). As there were no SC periods in the first part of the race the pit stops occurred sporadically between lap 1 and lap 34. By the time the first stops had occurred Moff was 10th and GT 11th.

Unfortunately for Scotty Mac, he incurred a pit lane entrance speeding infringement while entering pit lane for his stop with Van Gisbergen hot on his tail. This sent him from the lead to position 23. Further forward Whincup was making his move and by lap 34 was third with Scotty 14th and looking good to finish inside the top 11. But, again there was a twist as Scotty tried to make a move on Simona (Nissan) for 11th, but in his attempt turned her around and incurred a 15 second time penalty to be taken at his next stop. I could hardly watch!

Moff and GT were pressing on well, but still lacked speed with GT managing his tyres over the long stints that he was doing. The final stops took place between laps 45 and 54, and we set for the final 40 or so laps to the finish. Whincup had inherited the lead from his teammate Van Gisbergen who sat shotgun behind him and Reynolds had driven superbly to be in 3rd. Moff and GT were still hovering just outside the 10, and GT with all his experience was managing his tyres well and was pressuring his teammate to get past. Scotty was cutting his way back through the pack after serving his 15 second penalty and was in 13th behind the two GRM cars with 28 laps to go.

Lap after lap passed and Moff, GT, McLaughlin and Pye (Walkinshaw) raced amongst each other as Whincup led the way out front. As the laps ticked away and McLaughlin desperately tried to find his way to 11th Bright (Prodrive) launched himself into turn 1 from behind Pye contacting McLaughlin’s left- hand rear causing damage. For the next few laps smoke billowed off the tyre but still the #17 kept pressing. By now Lowndes (888) who had taken on fresh tyres on lap 70 was on the back of McLaughlin. Lap 90 and GT had a poor run out of turn 1 and Scotty squeezed up the inside at turn 2 bringing Lowndes with him. Moff was still 11th and McLaughlin was soon hot on his tail and with 3 laps to go he had to make the pass to win the Championship. As they came down the staircase on the penultimate lap Scotty saw an opportunity into turn 11 and dived inside Moff and again Lowndes followed. One lap to go and into turn 1 McLaughlin touched the outside wall and this gave Lowndes a chance to come up alongside as they went up the hill to turn 2, Scotty moved over, Lowndes hit the wall, but Scotty was 11th good enough to be Champion. Behind this GT and Moff battled home in 12th and 13th. Whincup won from Van Gisbergen and Reynolds. Then the penalty, for a third time in the one race Scotty copped a penalty which demoted him to 18th and Whincup was Champion. Unbelievable!

What a place, what a day and what a race. Nobody could have scripted the events that took place and my heart goes out for Scotty, but I cannot help but admire the determination and sheer ability of Jamie Whincup and the 888 Team. The win was a true team effort with Van Gisbergen applying the early heat on Scotty. This may or may not have caused the pit entry speeding as Van Gisbergen in your mirrors can be intimidating entering pit lane (ask Tim Slade), then Van Gisbergen taking the lead and handing it to Whincup, while still protecting from behind and finally having Lowndes come through from the rear on fresh tyres to force the final battle. Well done!

Thanks to all of you, many who are GRM Team Members who I value greatly, enjoy your 2017 GRM Year Book when it arrives early next year and a safe and happy Christmas, I can’t wait for Season 2018!

MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT – Sunday’s race

MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT – Leaving beautiful Newcastle

Garry

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