Garry’s 2018 The Bend Race Report

I was very much looking forward to the trip to Tailem Bend and excited to see what had been developed on the site of the “old” Mitsubishi test grounds and was certainly extremely impressed at what I saw.

The Bend Motorsport Park is the first permanent race track built in Australia since Eastern Creek (Sydney Motorsport Park) in 1990. Amazingly, the GT circuit (7.7km) is the second longest permanent race track in the world (Nürburgring being the longest).

Rather than fly to Adelaide and drive back to Tailem Bend, Barry and I decided to drive and follow I in the footsteps of Joey (transporter driver). When time permits it is very enjoyable driving and seeing the countryside. I like many take what we have for granted, but Australia is truly a diverse and beautiful country and north west Victoria looked a picture as we head into spring.

As we travelled closer to Tailem Bend the landscape flattened out and became less interesting and then out of nowhere appeared a significant concrete structure on our right-hand side. As we travelled closer it became evident this was “The Bend”. I was amazed as we left the highway to the size and impressiveness of the development and was only further in awe as I looked at the race circuit, pit facility, hotel and corporate area. Campers also had prime positions around the circuit and I think this well become a “must do event”.

Sally (PR Sally) had done very well to arrange accommodation for all of the GRM team in nearby Murray Bridge where we stayed at the aptly named Oval Motel (it’s next to the local football oval) and as much as I am not a “travel blogger” I would rate the 1980’s inspired facility 5 stars, based mainly on the cleanliness and presentation of the property and the very positive and friendly attitude of the staff. We’ll be back!

Friday, and although Garth had previously raced a GT car at the circuit both he and Bieb’s were eager to hit the track. The aim for the 2 x 45minute practice sessions was to do as many laps as possible and to find the set up that worked best overall for the circuit. 

The International Circuit (4.9km) was the circuit that the Supercars were racing on and with 18 corners, some of which are off camber and a section of 4 continuous right handers (corners 7-10) a compromise in car set up would be required. That is what works best for one section of track may not for another. 

During practice the drivers and engineers spend a lot of time making changes and then measuring those changes in time. It’s important that when changes are made and measured that car is the “same” apart from the change made as the previous run. This is often difficult as the tyres deteriorate, the sun may go behind a cloud which changes the track condition, or another car may run off and bring dirt/sand on to the circuit. By the end of practice and although we did not do a successful green tyre run with either car both Garth and James were reasonably comfortable and following a final practice the next morning felt as though they had found the balance they were looking for.

Qualifying for Saturday’s 120km (24 lap) race was a 15-minute session. Our tyre allocation for the weekend of racing was 5 sets. Two sets of tyres would be used on Saturday and three on Sunday. The strategy for qualifying changes from circuit to circuit and much of how you go about it is based on the overall lap time but can also affected by what cars raced immediately before qualifying. The normal/traditional method is the car will exit pit lane on worn tyres and the driver will get heat in to the brakes and ensure the car feels as it should and then re-enter pit lane put the new (green) tyres on and do the qualifying lap. As the Tailem Bend circuit is a 2-minute (1.50ish) lap and one qualifying attempt takes 3 laps (out lap, qualifying lap and in lap) the time taken including time in pit lane means the best option is to go out on green tyres and do a qualifying run first up. This gives the team a little time between the first and second runs to make a change if deemed necessary. 

Another factor that became evident at The Bend was the impact that other cars had on qualifying. That is if a car ran wide that was in front of you they would bring sand/dirt back on the circuit when they re-joined making the surface slippery and impeding your lap. With this in mind we endeavoured to get our guys out quickly following the first run to lessen the potential impact of other cars. Both Garth and Bieber did very solid jobs and GT was 10th with Bieb’s only 2/10ths further back in 16thand ahead of some very good racers in Reynolds, Lowndes, Courtney and Coulthard. It was the 888 cars of Whincup and Van Gisbergen on the front row.

As the cars exited pit lane for race 22 of the Championship Garth radioed in saying the #33 was missing (running on 7 cylinders), seconds later it was stranded on the main straight. The crew quickly gathered as the car was towed in reverse to pit exit and they quickly pushed it back to the garage. With only minutes until pit exit would be closed, meaning Garth would start from pit lane. 

Brain’s (Brian Cottee – Walkinshaw Engine Builder) reset the computer and the car fired on all eight cylinders. Garth exited pit lane with 20 seconds to spare and made his way around to P10 on the grid. 

As the lights went green GT produced one of his renowned starts and by the end of lap 1 was 7th and hot on the heels of Scotty McLaughlin. Garth was on and I was buoyed by his desire to attack rather than the necessity to defend. Unfortunately, all of this ended on lap 5 when the misfiring returned and the #33 stopped causing a Safety Car. Bieb’s held his position off the start but on lap 3 while dicing with Slade in front and Blanchard behind ran wide losing 4 positions. 

Pit lane was abuzz as the field reeled in on lap 7, our crew only changed the rear wheels/tyres on Bieb’s car and he re-joined in 15th. In front it was Whincup leading from his teammate Van Gisbergen, but he elected to let Van Gisbergen past as they approached pit lane rather than making him queue behind, enhancing his Championship effort. 

Van Gisbergen went on to win from the Nissan’s of Kelly and Caruso. From 15th on the re-start Bieber was being attacked from behind in a group led by Reynolds. On lap 13 Reynolds got up the inside of Bieb’s and he went wide losing several positions and finally came home 21st.

Certainly, a disappointing day as Bieber was in a position and had the speed to challenge much further up than where he finished and for Garth and the crew it is very unfortunate when something as simple as a connector plug attached to the engine fails when it appeared the #33 was heading toward a very good result.

Sunday, a 20-minute qualifying session preceded the race. This allowed for three green run qualifying attempts. Again, the same as Saturday the aim would be to try and find a clean part of the field, which is often best closer to the front. With 3 runs it is usual that the third is the quickest as the track gets a little more grip as each car lays more and more rubber down. 

On GT’s final outing and with splits well inside the top 10 it all came undone as Stanaway speared off the track in front of him spraying grass dirt and sand on the race line. Garth had to settle for 18th and Bieber too had a tough time of it unable to repeat his effort of the previous day and qualified 25th. Again, it was Whincup and Van Gisbergen 1-2.

As The Bend race circuit is new, the surface is extremely smooth and hence tyre degradation is low. With this in mind, strategy for Sunday’s 200klm race was very flexible. The 200 km (41 lap) race requires a minimum of two pit stops where wheels/tyres are changed, and 120 litres of fuel must be put in the car. As tyre degradation is low it allows a car to stop early and run long stints. The advantage of stopping early is you can often get your driver out of congestion where they can circulate at a lap time quicker than the cars in front. All of this comes together following the final stops and often a car that appeared out of the race can suddenly be in the mix. Our strategy was to pit early and get part of the 120 litres of fuel on board and hopefully race cleanly as others battled. 

Race 23 and again Garth was quick out of the blocks and by the completion of the first lap he had passed several cars and was 11th. We along with several others pitted Bieber on lap 1. GT raced hard and on lap 3 when he radioed in saying he was being held up by De Pasquale, Krusty (Richard Hollway) called him in to pit. As GT approached the 40kmh control line in pit entry Heimgartner (Nissan) from 100 plus metres back honed in on the back of the #33 using the car as his break so as not to exceed the 40kmh pit lane speed limit. The result of this “cowboy” move was to not only ruin his car but also largely inhibit the performance of Garth’s car. From this point on the #33 had very poor rear grip and Garth nursed the car around for an agonising 38 laps. 

Bieber too suffered damage that restricted significantly the performance of the #34. In Bieber’s case it was opening lap nose to tail racing that resulted in the front splitter being dismounted and the lip of the undertray facing up like a bull dozer bucket, hence creating no downforce. 

Again, a long 41 laps to home. Out front Whincup led his teammate Van Gisbergen from start to finish and Dave Reynolds did a splendid job to finish 3rd.

This was a very tough weekend for all involved with GRM but the best part about life is there is always tomorrow and the thing about Motorsport is as it states, it’s a “sport”. But, we all are so consumed about what we do and what we need to achieve. There are certainly expectations from sponsors, fans and the media but nobody expects more than me and our crew and drivers. Weekends like this hurt and are embarrassing. We will, as we have for 55 years continue to get up early, work hard and try again.

I can’t wait for Sandown!

MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT - Seeing the Tailem Bend (The Bend) facility.

MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT - I’m trying to find some humour, but I can’t. Our result.

Garry

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