Garry’s AGP Notebook
Heading to the Melbourne Grand Prix we held fond memories of 2014 when Scott McLaughlin won the event. As many will be aware the GP event is a standalone event and is not for Championship points.
Nevertheless teams are all very keen to put on a good showing, but also in the back of their minds is the Tasmanian Championship round in a fortnight’s time. Unfortunately David Wall was still recovering from quite a severe burn to his foot resulting from the Clipsal event in Adelaide. In his place I decided to run Chris Pither, a 28 year old New Zealander who won the V8 Ute Championship in 2011 and who this year is racing fulltime in the V8 Development Series.
The GP weekend starts early with practice and qualifying on the Thursday followed by two races on the Friday and one each on Saturday and Sunday. Following practice Scott was positioned second and Chris 13th. The GP event only had one qualifying session and this would determine starting positions for the first race on Friday and for the other three races the starting position is where you finished the preceding race. Scott qualified 6th and Chris 24th. Both the Pepsi Max Ford’s filled the front row with Winterbottom on pole.
One interesting difference to the racing at the GP is the use of rolling starts. My thoughts are these provide great excitement with very close door to door racing as the cars negotiate the first few corners. The nay sayers suggest they result in too many crashes, but I genuinely believe that the driver’s would adapt to this type of start and I also believe following a safety car the restart should also be conducted in this side by side manner.
Unfortunately Race 1 on Friday didn’t start all that well for us. Scott got a little out of shape on the first lap and was tagged from behind sending him off the track and to the back of the field. From here he drove aggressively to work his way up to 17th. Chris drove a solid race picking up several positions to finish 21st. When you are in a position like Chris where you have been given an opportunity to fulfil your dream of racing a V8 Supercar in the main series it really is a mental battle. You know if you make a silly mistake and crash out that it maybe your first and last chance, but you also know that if you are too conservative and slow that the same outcome will result. The race continued the qualifying form of the Pepsi Falcon’s, finishing one-two. Race 2 on Friday was shortened to 9 laps as a result of several laps being lost under the safety car following Scott McLaughlin’s tussle with Dale Wood leaving the later in the wall. Scott was later penalised 5 grid positions for the next race as it was deemed he contributed to Wood’s incident. Again Chris was solid finishing one place behind Scott in 22nd. The Ford dominance continued, Winterbottom again.
At this point I would be kidding to say that not only myself, but the whole team were a little disappointed with the result. It just reiterates the importance of not getting back in the pack in Supercar racing, if you do, the fight to move forward requires both bravery and driving ability as the cars are so evenly matched. Watching the F1 cars over the weekend only highlighted how good our category is. The gap we have between 20 plus cars is the same F1 have between the first three. I certainly don’t question for one minute the skill F1 drivers possess, but I also have no doubt that the machinery has a lot more to do with the result than it does in Supercar racing. I have no doubt that if you put our best driver (Whincup) in the slowest car he would still finish at least mid pack. On the other hand if you put Hamilton in a current Marussia I think he would certainly still be down the back.
Saturday was certainly going to be a testing one for us with Scott having to start at the rear of grid following his indiscretion with Dale Wood and Chris in 21st. Scott had a lightening start and by the end of the first lap had gone from 25th to 17th. Unfortunately in the push and shove start and aggression that Scott displayed resulted in a damaged power steering hose that leaked fluid out onto the exhaust causing a small under bonnet fire. Scott’s race was over. Chris battled well and finished inside the 20 in 19th. Yet again Winterbottom led a Ford 1-2.
Thankfully Sunday had arrived the weekend was beginning to feel like a marathon. At this stage of proceedings we were obviously not going to achieve a lot out of the weekend. Scott was again starting last as a result of the previous race DNF and Chris 19th. The team were just hoping to come out of the final race with two straight cars. The last thing that we needed was a poor result combined with damaged cars. The start to Race 4 was very interesting with two front row Ford’s appearing to hold off in the acceleration zone with their partner cars (Heimgartner and Reynolds) realising this and jumping out wide mid pack before the pack accelerated. The result was mayhem with Marco s Ambrose left with nowhere to go except hard into the rear of the car in front of him. Thankfully both Chris and Scott avoided the carnage and with some well thought out driving emerged 13th and 17th respectfully. Again the race was shortened due to the safety car peri od, and unfortunately on the final lap when he had worked his way up to 11th Chris went a little wide on one of the final corners leaving the door open for Todd Kelly (Nissan) to force his way in and in the meantime Chris was knocked into the kitty litter. Scott continued to show what he had to offer if only he had been at the front and not the rear. He worked his way from 25th to 10th by race end. Congratulations must go to the Prodrive Team that clean swept all four races, with Mark Winterbottom and Chas Mostert completing another 1-2.
As much as the season hasn’t started as we would have hoped considering our performance in 2014. We just need to take a “deep breath”, analyse where we have made mistakes and when I say “we” I mean everybody from myself , the floor sweeper to the driver and improve what we as a team can do to improve no matter how small these matters may be. We can’t continue to look back, but it is important that we are all aware that we have only had a little over 12 months with Volvo and in that time have had some remarkable achievements. It is vital that we take confidence out of what we know our best is and eliminate the variables that we can control that effect the end result. In two weeks time Round 2 of the 2015 Championship is in Symmons Plains, Tasmania and we will be there with “bells on”.