Garry’s 2018 Winton SuperSprint Report
Winton is a raceway that holds many memories for me including those of my very first motor race in 1963.
I had left school as a 16-year-old and taken up a motor mechanics apprenticeship at Alan Coffey Motors in Ringwood and for some extra money I worked on weekends for a used car dealer doing mechanical repairs on his cars. The motivation to do this extra work was to save enough money to buy a race car. Finally, I saved enough to buy an early model Holden (FX) and I can still recall the registration number OL606. I entered in a race and drove the car to Winton and won! How my life may have been totally different if I came last, I now had the bug and 55 years later I still seek that same enjoyment and excitement from Motor Racing.
From that very first race Winton has continued to provide some very special moments. Unfortunately, this weekend was not one of those and before I provide a summary of the weekends activities I would like to “pump myself” up a little by thinking of some positive times. The number one on my list was Bargs and Garth putting both GRM cars on the front row in 1999. I was so proud to see our two cars side by side on the front row of a Supercar field and from memory Bargs went on to win the race, well done Jabba! In recent years 2014 also provided a special moment when Scotty McLaughlin got his first Supercar pole. I remember clearly, him jumping out of the car, full of excitement and saying he never thought he was going to get a pole, well four seasons later and I think he may now have 40 plus poles.
Although Joey could have left GRM on Thursday morning to travel to Winton (3 hours up the Hume) he left on Wednesday evening and drove to Euroa. His explanation is the sleeper cab in the Volvo Globetrotter FH16 is more comfortable than his bed at home and any excuse to spend a night in the Volvo is always welcomed.
Barry and I travelled up early on Friday morning. I’m quite enjoying sitting in the passenger seat and being chauffeured around, enjoying the wonderful countryside we are so fortunate to have. On the trip we stopped at Yea for a toasted sandwich and arrived at Winton by 9.30am.
The Winton track which is owned and run by the Benalla Auto Club have worked hard to create a special event of the Supercar round. They have focused on appealing to campers and the camp ground opposite the pit garages stretches in to paddocks adjoining the circuit. On Saturday following the Supercar race Barry and I took Sean Seamer (Supercar CEO) over to the camp grounds and it was fantastic to see people having a good time, with kids playing, camp fires burning and music playing. Simple family fun things without all the current day technology. I am getting old and grumpy!
The Winton SuperSprint followed the SuperSprint format of 1x120km race on Saturday and 1x200km race, Sunday which required a minimum fuel drop of 120 litres. Each race had a preceding qualifying session. During the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday the drivers and engineers go through a process of evaluating tyre wear and work through various set up options looking for that “sweet spot” that produces qualifying speed. Unfortunately, our achilleas heal this season has been our ability to produce speed in qualifying. In layman’s terms to produce speed in qualifying a car must “use” its tyres and produce heat in them quickly, but in racing you need the opposite, a car that is “easy” on the tyres. When writing this it seems very simple, but unfortunately it is not and as much as we have one of the most competitive race cars on the track, we currently have a poor qualifying car.
Following practice and qualifying GT and Bieb’s were 20th and 22nd and the field of 26 cars was covered by one second with the two DJR Penske cars led by McLaughlin on pole. I know that I often highlight the competitive nature of our racing, so I have delved in to my archives to produce an example of exactly how competitive the current Supercar Championship is. In 2001 Garth was on pole and if you used the same one second margin that we have today from 1st to 26th, in 2001 the one second margin from GT on pole was to Steven Johnson in 5th!
Stiffy (Stefan Millard – Team Manager) rallied the troops and together with Krusty and Manuel (#33 and #34 Engineers) devised a strategy they believed would exploit our race speed. When a car has good race speed and is “easy” on tyre wear it is vital to try and place the driver in clean air where they can circulate consistently with the aim of making up race positions through the pit stop process and late in the race when the tyres are in better condition than those in front. GT did a tremendous job early in the race and avoided the lap 1 incident that occurred in front of him involving LeBrocq, Reynolds and Stanaway. By the completion of the first lap the #33 was 14th and GT consistently produced lap times consistent with those in the lead.
The 40 lap (120km) race required one compulsory pit stop where a minimum of two wheels required changing and these stops began after lap 4. The Winton track surface is much smoother than that of Barbagello (WA) where we last raced. Teams began stopping from lap 5, but we chose to keep GT out until lap 18 and Bieber lap 19. As Garth’s race speed had been so consistent he emerged from the pit stop phase of the race in 10th and raced home well picking up two further positions to finish 8th. Bieber was on a similar strategy but found himself in traffic for much of his stint and finished 21st. Up front Scotty Mac looked set for the win, leading from the start but a Safety Car restart with 7 laps remaining saw Rick Kelly (Nissan) pressure him from behind causing the Ford to run wide out of turn 3 and he snuck up the inside taking Pye (Walkinshaw), Van Gisbergen (888) and Coulthard with him.
Following our trip over to the camp ground and a beer and laugh with some of the campers I was all fired up to head back to the Motel and tune in to the Royal Wedding. On the way Barry and I stopped past the supermarket and bought a pack of chocolate royals to have with our cuppa. What a night and what a sermon by the Reverend Curry, wow! LOVE and FIRE, I was pumped! The only problem was I was rooming with Barry and Kaye was at home.
Sunday, and although the Team had been working tirelessly (until midnight on Saturday) our qualifying performance was like that of Saturday. Again, it was the DJR cars at the front with the Nissans of yesterday’s winner Rick Kelly and Michael Caruso behind. Our ability on Saturday to leap frog 12 positions was again something we would need to do to produce anything near an acceptable result. GT again showed his starting prowess passing 4 cars in the opening lap, but then found himself behind Blanchard (Cooldrive) and after following him for 14 laps Krusty called #33 in for the first of the compulsory two stops. This stop was a handful of laps earlier than we had previously planned, but as GT was being held up, yet unable to overtake Blanchard it was better to get him in clean air on the track so as he could circulate quicker and hopefully pass others when they pit. This worked as GT had passed Blanchard as he emerged from pit lane 4 laps later. Bieber was running 23rd, just in front of Lowndes after pitting at lap 1. Out front Coulthard led McLaughlin.
The second stops began on lap 28 and we pitted GT on lap 30. This left a 37-lap stint to home, but we were confident that through Garth’s experience and the tyre life that we had been experiencing that he would be strong until the end. GT was making ground until lap 49 when Courtney who had been pressured by Garth for several laps went wide in to turn 7 and GT saw the opening on the inside and as they entered turn 8 side by side Courtney again went wide pushing the #33 off the track. At this stage Garth was looking set for another top 10 finish and although not exactly what we want, but at least somewhat respectful he ended up 22nd after losing 20 seconds and 9 places because of the spin. Courtney was given a 15 second penalty. Bieber had a tough day and was 24th. Coulthard led from start to finish with Van Gisbergen 2nd and McLaughlin 3rd.
Unfortunately, Winton 2018 will not make the GRM highlight reel, but we must press on and that is exactly what we are all doing today!
I can’t wait for Darwin!
MOMENT OF DISSAPOINTMENT - Barry ate all the chocolate royal
MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT - Reverend Curry’s sermon