Garry’s Australian GP Race Report
It has been 22 years that the Australian Grand prix has been held in Melbourne at the Albert Park Lake circuit. The circuit itself goes well back into the history pages of Australian and International Motorsport.
The Australian Grand prix has had many homes since the first AGP held at Phillip Island in 1928. The Albert Park circuit previously held the event through the early 1950’s and during this time the cars travelled in the opposite direction to the way they race today.
We have been racing Supercars there throughout the modern era with the exception of one year. Our races are a challenge and do not have any bearing on the Supercar Championship. Of course it is important to showcase our sport to the world and it surprises me every year the interest that the international teams and fans have in Supercar racing. On Friday evening while our boys were busy repairing Moff’s car it was interesting to see how many of the F1 mechanics and crew came and stood in front of our garage to look, talk and show so much curiosity in regards to our cars.
The weekend comprised of 4x13 lap races with four corresponding qualifying sessions on the Thursday afternoon. In previous years there has been one qualifying session and each subsequent race is started where you finished the previous race. Our qualifying was very mixed with Tander’s best being 8th for race 2 and Moff’s 12th for race 3. It was the DJR Penske cars that dominated with Coulthard on pole for 3 of the races and Scotty Mac next to him on the front row for two of them.
As a race team of course you go to each and every meeting wanting and working towards winning. The facts are that only one car will win each race. The Grand Prix is an interesting event in that if you don’t believe you have the pace to win, which following qualifying was quite obvious you then allow the race engineers some scope to try different things that you normally save for a test day. The types of things you test relate to spring rates, shocker settings, ride heights and roll centres. In layman’s terms spring rates relate to the tension of the spring, the ride height is the distance between the car and the ground and the roll centre is the pivot point of the car. Each of these changes is minute, but together they can have quite an effect on the race car.
The race starts at the Grand Prix are rolling starts. The process that takes place in the lead up to these starts sees the cars do a formation lap behind the Safety Car (SC) at an initial speed of 120kmh, at the ¾ completion point of the lap the SC speed drops to 80 then 60kmh. It is then up to the lead car to hold a speed of between 50-60kmh and the SC accelerates away and into pit lane. In the meantime the field form two abreast in an order that depicts the qualifying result and as they cruise along the main straight the starting official will extinguish the overhead red lights when they are satisfied of the formation. The cars can then accelerate away and begin passing immediately.
In race 1 that is exactly what Moff did from position 14 and with several well executed manoeuvres he found himself inside the top 10. With two laps remaining Moff exited turn16 on to the main straight and had Winterbottom (Prodrive) in his sights and by the time they approached turn1 Moff had manoeuvred the #34 to the inside and completed a very well thought out pass and came home a very respectable 7th. Upfront McLaughlin did a better job off the start than his team mate and led from start to finish.
On the other hand Tander had a forgettable race 1. Having qualified back in the field he got mixed up with some pushing and shoving that takes place in the mid pack. Unfortunately the #33 suffered a bent steering arm and had to pit on the first lap. The crew got straight to work on fixing it and got Garth back on track with a lap or two to go to make sure that the car was steering and behaving correctly for race 2 later in the day.
Race 2 and from 8th Tander started brilliantly, driving with controlled aggression he looked menacing and found himself in 4th by the completion of lap 1. This time Coulthard led McLaughlin from start to finish. Moff couldn’t repeat his race 1 effort, but it was through no fault of his own. The #34 car was unluckily mixed up with VanGisbergen’s 888 car that had been turned around at turn 15 and was across the track, Moff was in a group of cars approaching the incident and he was blinded as cars went left and right and he crashed into the stricken Red Bull car causing significant front end damage to his car. On returning to the pits on the back of a truck Stiffy (Team Manager – Stefan Millard) analysed the damage.
A decision was made to fix the #34. The boys worked through to midnight and the car was fixed and ready to go for Saturday’s race. The cost of these impacts are certainly significant and it doesn’t take too much to cost $50,000 plus, when radiator ducts, air boxes, front splitters, oil coolers and related plumbing are damaged. Of course we are in the business of racing and such costs cannot be avoided and we are fortunate that our cars are “easily” fixed. I am certainly not against GT racing but any reasonable impact on a GT car would require access to a jig and would more than likely take days rather than hours to repair.
The repairs done on Friday night were completed without the stalwart and 16 year member of our team, Gypsy (Jeffrey Marshall) who turned 46 and had a “step back in time” date with his wife at the Northcote Town Hall to see “Things made of Stone and Wood”. With a race still to come on Sunday, Gypsy promised me that he would only drink tea and eat sandwiches. Happy Birthday Gypsy!
Saturday and Race 3. Moff and Tander were out of 12th and 17th respectively. Again, Garth was caught up in some biff and barge and sustained damage to the front splitter which in turn shred the front right hand tyre and ended his race. Moff timed the start to perfection and found himself inside the top 10 in 9th after lap 1. Coulthard led from Whincup and that is how the race finished.
Obviously during the season we spend many weekends away, but as we are in Melbourne this weekend I cannot avoid the jobs around home that I must get done. For the past 30 years I have lived on a farm in Gippsland and following Saturday’s racing I took the opportunity to travel home and spend a couple of hours on the tractor slashing some laneways. During these times I often reminisce and appreciate the totally different speeds of life. One minute the hustle, bustle, noise, speed, colour and smell of a race circuit and now the tranquillity of horses and cows grazing, the hum of my old Fergie (Massey Ferguson tractor) and best of all as I make a pass past the house the smell of the roast chicken that Kaye is cooking for dinner!
Sunday and the fourth and final race of the Grand Prix weekend. Coulthard led Whincup into turn 1 and back further Moff was turned around at turn 1 and sent to the rear of the field, Garth and those behind Moff all took evasive action and Garth was punted from behind by Scotty Mac and in turn slammed into the rear of Dale Wood (Nissan). Tander suffered quite severe frontal damage to the splitter, bonnet and handling to the car. As much as there was nothing terminal wrong Garth was unable to push and was racing to protect his position rather than been able to be the aggressor. Garth did a tremendous job to bring the #33 home in 11th.
In the meantime Moff showed excellent speed and again showed his ability to race and pass and by race end he was only one position behind Garth in 12th. Out front Coulthard looked to have Whincup’s measure until he suffered a tyre failure on lap 7 and handed the lead to Whincup who then made a mistake and the Ford of Mostert (Prodrive) went to the lead. Four laps later Whincup had a tyre fail and he had to pit and this promoted his team mate VanGisbergen into second and Tim Slade finished 3rd.
Overall a very up and down weekend for us, but I was buoyed by our race speed and look forward to our Open Day this Saturday 1 April (10am to 2pm) at GRM 2/13 Kitchen Road, Dandenong South and the Tasmania round in a fortnight’s time.
AGP – Coates Hire Supercar Challenge
MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT My roast chicken on Saturday night
MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT Damage to Moff’s car on Friday