Garry’s 2018 Coates Hire Ipswich SuperSprint
With only one weekend at home between the previous event in Townsville and Ipswich, Joey (Joe Sullivan) was keen to travel the 2,700km home as quick and safely as possible to give the crew as much time as possible to prepare for the Ipswich event.
Of course, there is no question regarding comfort on the journey as the Volvo Globetrotter FH16 700hp truck is the very best!
Thankfully, Donald “Wagga” Wheadon from Colac offered to drive two up with Joey so as the transporter would be home by the Tuesday following Townsville. Driving two up means one person drives while the other rests and as much as Joe could have done this trip alone and arrived home a little later the help of Wagga was certainly appreciated and made it possible to travel continuously through the daylight hours rather than the riskier time during the night.
The crew returned to work on Wednesday and by Saturday afternoon the cars had been fully dismantled, serviced and reassembled. On Monday the cars were set up for how the Engineers wanted to begin Practice 1 on Friday. This involves setting the camber and castor angles (like a wheel alignment), shock and spring rates and the ride height of the car. These settings often differ from track to track and the starting point is often determined from previous data. But, where you start is often not where you finish as track conditions change from year to year and the tyre that we are using in 2018 is different to 2017. People often wonder how a track changes from one year to the next. There are many ways and they include the weather i.e. temperature and both wind speed and direction. A small change in track temperature can make a big difference on grip level and in simple terms if there is less grip a “softer” car is normally quicker. The other change with the tracks from year to year is the surface. The surface of a race track deteriorates and becomes “rougher” due to wind, rain and sun along with cars racing at the track throughout the year. Early in practice the Engineers rely on the tyre technicians to measure tyre wear. This is done by completing several laps of the circuit and then measuring the wear on the tyre. Following this, changes to the car set-up may be made to improve tyre wear and calculations are then done to determine the optimal stint time come the weekend of racing.
Prior to Friday practice the co-drivers for the endurance races later in the season had a practice session. Chris Pither and Richard Muscat will join Bieb’s and GT for the Pirtek Endurance Cup. Richard is currently in Asia racing in a GT Championship and was not present on Friday, but Chris completed 17 laps. My personal belief is these sessions are totally unnecessary and as though my instruction was to use the “oldest” tyres that we have. I appreciate that there are drivers that have not had a lot of time driving a Supercar and my people tell me although Chris is driving in Super 2 that the main series car is “different”. I think a lot more is achieved giving a driver extended time behind the wheel at a test day, a 30-minute practice session where most drive for only 20 minutes is bulldust! I have utmost confidence in Richard and Chris to do a very solid job for us later in the season.
Friday afternoon saw 2x45 minute practice sessions and the aim of each Team can vary. Obviously, there is a primary focus on finding the optimal set up that gives the driver the most confidence in the car. The evolution and development of a Supercar is ongoing and as a team our weakness has been our ability to unlock the box that provides outright pace in qualifying. We have consistently had a very good race car all season and when analysed GT has been a top 5 pacesetter during races for most of the season and Bieber has been in the top 10 race speed wise often. The Engineering group are always designing and developing and during practice we tried some “new” parts on Garth’s car. This process begins conservatively as initially they are analysing the performance from a reliability perspective and from there begin to look at what can be done with a particular item to enhance the race car. As such much of practice for GT was spent analysing potential new parts and the result was he was 6/10ths off the time set by Van Gisbergen, Bieber was 4/10ths off.
I have very fond memories of Ipswich as it was 3 years ago when I was pleasantly surprised on my 70th birthday with a convoy of GRM race cars and along with that some of my “old” friends from Queensland attended. Although the round didn’t fall on my birthday this year I was equally surprised by an antique chair one of my good friends (Draffo) kindly presented to me. I was told that the chair had a lot of history and Draffo’s grandson saved it from a roadside hard rubbish collection. Draffo glued the broken leg back on had it signed by the Queen and Prince Phillip and kindly gave it me!
Friday night and Barry along with my friends Draffo, Piggy and I went to the Brothers Leagues Club for a meal. I must be getting older as I used to think how old the people were in these types of Clubs but unfortunately, they are all starting to look younger. I did tell Barry that if I ever started going out in track suit pants and a cardigan it was time to leave me at home. I did enjoy the Roast of the Day though, pensioners special!
Just like a couple of old “fuddy duddies”, Barry and I were back in the motel sitting up in bed sipping a Jamo’s (Jamieson Irish Whisky) watching the AFL at 8.00 o’clock. By halftime we were asleep and thank goodness because Barry’s Tigers were flying, and he wouldn’t shut up!
Saturday and following a final practice session it was qualifying. The tyre allocation for Saturday and Sunday was five sets of tyres per car. From a racing perspective 2 sets would be used on Saturday (120km and 1 pit stop race) and 3 sets on Sunday (200k and 2 pit stop race). But, for qualifying we chose to run 3 sets on Saturday and 2 Sunday. The reason been that the shorter, 1 pit stop races allow less time and strategy to work thorough the field, so it is best to give yourself a better opportunity on Saturday in qualifying. In saying this the closeness of qualifying was as tight as we have seen. Scotty Mc (DJR Penske) yet again showcased his ability to produce that one magical lap and he was 1.7/10ths clear of Chaz Mostert (Tickford) and that same margin then covered 6 cars, GT was the same margin further back and in 11th and Bieber was 19th. Tenths of seconds equate to several grid positions and many in the field can match the speed of the pole lap when you add individual sectors of a lap together, but few can nail them altogether.
Race 19 of the Supercar Championship was 120 km (39 laps) of Queensland Raceway, nicknamed the “paperclip” because of its shape. For fans the circuit is fantastic as you can see the whole race circuit and for drivers there are passing opportunities at four of the six corners. From pole McLaughlin led from his teammate Coulthard who benefited with a front row promotion as Mostert received a 3-spot grid penalty for impeding Van Gisbergen during qualifying. Garth maintained his starting position of 11th but was pressuring those in front and managed to pass both Caruso and Courtney prior to his first stop at the end of lap 19. Unfortunately, this stop did not go as planned as the #33 car backfired through the airbox on GT’s in lap causing a small engine fire which resulted in GT hesitating and contemplating pulling off the track as he thought the fire was going to increase, but thankfully extinguished. There was a further delay at the pit stop. We pride ourselves on clean and efficient stops and I am very proud of our workforce and their continuing aim to be better and better which has seen very few mishaps in the stops. So good have they been that you begin to take it for granted and when a slight delay occurs it is very surprising. During the stop there was trouble with the removal of one of the wheels and Garth lost a couple of seconds. On re-entering the racing line from pit lane both Caruso, Percat and Courtney had all passed the #33. GT continued to finish where he started, 11th. James picked up a couple of places on the opening lap to be in the 20 before stopping for his compulsory stop on lap 16. Throughout the second half of the race he spent much of the time in a Nissan sandwich between Simona DeSilvestro and Andre Heimgartner and came home 18th. Out front it was Scotty Mac who won from pole with Van Gisbergen second and the “old man” of the field, Craig Lowndes 3rd.
Saturday night, and thanks to my beautiful new (old) chair my legs, back and feet felt fantastic. I was ready to hit the Brothers Club again and on entering I was pumped as music from the 60’s was playing, and I could see all of the old “beauties” getting fired up for a little dancing. I coaxed Barry to the dining room, so we could eat our meal and I’d be ready to strike on the dance floor. Unfortunately, Barry didn’t share the same enthusiasm as me and again returned to the motel as he reminded me of our early start tomorrow, party pooper!
Sunday, again saw a near zero-degree morning yet beautiful early 20’s day. Today was a special day as we were being visited by Hazel Cowburn (Auntie Hazel) the indigenous artist who was commissioned by Wilson Security to design the livery for our car. Auntie Hazel and her family are wonderful people and I thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment and enthusiasm that they brought with them. Auntie Hazel is such a special person that I decided to carry out on to the grid my newly acquired (old) chair and position it in front of the #33 and offered the seat to Auntie Hazel. She sat their proudly in front of the car depicting her artwork, and the smiles and happiness that she showed made my day.
Prior to this qualifying took place and in a repeat of the previous day GT was 11th and Bieb’s 22nd and yes, Scott McLaughlin was on pole with Van Gisbergen next to him. The race required a minimum of two stops with compulsory 120 litres of fuel to be put in and tyres changed. The aim of these races is to time your stops to maximise tyre life, but to also not fall too far behind those who may pit earlier. The tactic of “undercutting” is commonly used in these races. Undercutting is when a team will choose to stop earlier than others and then put together a succession of laps quicker than those they were previously racing to find the time to jump in front when the others pit later. The downside to this is if the stop is taken too early and tyre deg is poor, then come the end of the stint those that you had passed through this process now return serve and it is not uncommon to lose more positions than previously gained.
Both Garth and James started solidly, and GT was in the Top 10 by lap 1 and Bieb’s found four places on the opening lap to be 18th. Off the front it was Van Gisbergen who beat Scotty to turn 1 and lead. As the race unfolded and the first round of stops took place between laps 10 and 23, it was those who stopped earlier that had leapfrogged the later stoppers and as such McLaughlin was now leading. GT had managed to pass Caruso (Nissan) on track and Reynolds (Erebus) during the pit stop to be in 8th. Bieb’s had consolidated his position in 17th. The second compulsory stops began at the end of lap 32 with Lowndes and Kelly (Nissan) pitting and went through to lap 45 when Reynolds was the last to pit. Garth stopped on lap 34 and Bieber 5 laps later. In the final run to home and throughout the pit stop cycle the #33 was passed by Whincup, Reynolds and Slade (BJR) to finish 11th. Bieber was having a battle with Waters (Tickford) and Heimgartner (Nissan) that saw positions swapping around and Bieb’s did a great job to come home 15th. Van Gisbergan withstood a late challenge from McLaughlin to win.
Overall, the weekend performance was a step forward and I know I continue to harp on qualifying but again the importance to qualify well in these sprint rounds really shapes the result. We will continue to work on this facet of our racing and look forward to the first night race in more than 20 years and the first at Eastern Creek.
See you all in Sydney in 10 days, I cannot wait!
MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT - receiving my new (old) chair.
MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT - Barry telling me we had to go to bed when I wanted to hit the dance floor!