Garry’s Bathurst Race Report

It is that time of year again, both the AFL and NRL seasons are complete and it’s time to head to The Mountain. This journey is a pilgrimage for many and for the Supercar teams the most anticipated race of the year.

Joey (our transporter driver) left for Bathurst in our Volvo Globetrotter FH16 700hp B-Double the Sunday prior to the event. The Bathurst event is very special for Joey and brings back many, many memories. Joe first went to Bathurst in 1970 as a 13 year old as a rouse about for Murray Carter, a respected race car driver who is still competing today in club and state racing at the age of 85! Back in 1970 Murray drove his race car a Ford XW Phase II GTHO from Melbourne to Bathurst with Joey sitting alongside him in the front seat.

Unfortunately on this occasion Murray did not make the start line having being the 10th emergency, so Murray and Joey put their swags and bags back in the car and headed home. Over the years Joey has enjoyed success at Bathurst with Gibson Motorsport in 1999 and HRT in 2009 and 2011. Joey missed our 2000 victory having started one week after our win, before his move to HRT in 2009 before returning to GRM in 2013.

Joe spent the night in Gundagai on Sunday and arrived at Bathurst on Monday afternoon where he washed the truck and trailers at Johnson’s Truck Service.

The crew travel together to Bathurst on a Volvo coach and enjoy a bit of fun along the journey. We left Dandenong South at 6.00am on Tuesday and stopped for morning tea at Albury where Jenny Tanner (from Stephen Tanner Automotive, Albury) had arranged morning tea on the banks of the (swollen) Murray for the team that was attended by a very loyal and enthusiastic group of local GRM and Volvo supporters.

Following further stops at Gundagai and Young we arrived at Bathurst just after 6.00pm. I have been coming to the mountain for over 40 years and the feeling that you have when you round the corner on the highway into Bathurst and spot the mountain with the “Bathurst 1000” sign always gives me goose bumps and the excitement of the days ahead are much anticipated.

In Bathurst we stay very close to the track in a lovely old building that was originally a convent but is now student accommodation. The students kindly give up their rooms and tradition sees great effort and imagination being put into welcoming letters that they leave in the rooms for each team member.

The crew spend Wednesday setting up the garage, while Joey yet again gets to jump behind the wheel of the Globetrotter to take part in the transporter parade through the streets. I must give Joe credit here as he always makes the effort to find somebody (usually a child and parent) to join him in the cabin during the truck parade and to see the smile on the face of these kids after this experience is very special. Well done Joey!

The drivers spend the morning with media commitments and following a driver parade and autograph session in town, they return to the track to complete a track walk with the Engineers. During the track walk Scotty, Moff and David who all have completed many laps around Mt Panorama spend time pointing certain aspects of the track to Bieber (James Golding) and they look for things that have changed since last year. Often there may be little sections that have been asphalted or kerbs that have been renewed or drains that have been put in. Road circuits are quite different to permanent tracks as they are driven on all year and maintenance is ongoing.

Wednesday night and Sally, Barry and the drivers travelled to John Davis Motors in Orange who represent Volvo in this area of Australia. Sally and the boys enjoyed a really great evening with the Dealership staff and customers and I know that I have said it before but these visits really inspire us to do what we do. It brings home the impact of our involvement to those who we represent. The enthusiasm and passion of many of the fans is remarkable and this was highlighted by a young lady, Ronnie (Veronica) who has spent the last 18 months building a scaled replica of Joey’s B-double.

Thursday and the track action involved 3 x 1 hour sessions. The second of these sessions was for co-drivers only, but the other two were open. In P1 our aim was to utilise the majority of the session with Moff and Scotty at the wheel. During this time the guys try many options in regards to set up. The Mt Panorama circuit is unique in that down force and traction is required across the top of the Mountain, yet it is important to have speed down Conrod and up Mountain straights. If too much down force is put into the car set up the ability of the car to reach potential top speeds in the straights is limited. P2 and the co-drivers have their opportunity to get a feel for the car and the circuit.

The circuit is very intimidating and much of this intimidation is based upon the reputation of Mt Panorama and the spectacular crashes and footage that have been shown over the past 50 plus years. Wallee (David Wall) is very experienced at the circuit having raced there for many years in DVS, GT, Supercars and Porsches. Bieber (James Golding) first raced at Bathurst last year in the 250km DVS race and was again doing that race alongside his co-driver role with Moff in the Volvo.

Motor Racing is truly a Team sport and the Team aspect is highlighted at Bathurst. In normal circumstances you cannot win this race if any aspect of your Team is not working 100%, and the components are the main drivers, co-drivers, pit crew and Engineers. Cowboy (Dean Cowling) oversees the performance of all areas and both sides of the garage (#33 #34) work together to maximise the performance of the Team.

In P2 Wallee felt comfortable in the car and had a trouble free run, not putting a foot wrong during the session. Unfortunately for #34, Bieber misjudged his entry into turn 6 and lost the rear of the car which sent him to the left hand side of the track into the concrete wall at turn 7. With P3 only 1 hour away the guys quickly got to work on repairing the car and on first inspection it looked possible that they may have been able to get it back out at some stage during the 1 hour P3 session. But, as they began to remove the damaged bodywork and both left front and rear components it became evident that the damage was much worse than first thought.

Cowboy took control and slowed everybody down as there was no point doing a rushed job when the car was not going to make the practice session. Bathurst is a long week and with two further practice sessions on Friday prior to qualifying it was best to take the time to repair the car. It never ceases to amaze me after all of the years that I have spent in Motorsport how the Team come together in these moments and get what can seem an impossible job done.

As I have aged I am not quite the help I used to be when a car is crashed, to the contrary I am probably a “pain in the backside” to everybody trying to fix it so I decided to head into Bathurst and have a cold beer and chat to the Supercar fans that make the trek to Mt Panorama from all parts of Australia and the world (particularly New Zealand).

Arriving the next day at the track reminds me of Christmas morning as a kid. There sitting in the pit bay, where yesterday sat what resembled a car ready for the wreckers is a shiny “new” Volvo. Well done guys!

Friday and 2 x 1 hour practice sessions followed by qualifying. The first of these sessions was for co-drivers only. Scotty was very happy with the car balance following P3 on Thursday afternoon and as much as there is some uncertainty in regards to what quality of tyre each car is utilising it appeared that #33 was certainly on the pace. Moff was unable to take part in P3 due to the crash in P2 and again had to watch on as Bieber did the driving in P4 on Friday morning. Bieber’s job was to circulate throughout this session with regular visits to the garage for the crew to check the replaced components and ensure that everything was ok with the car. Wallee again cruised around and put together some solid laps.

P5 and Moff was itching to finally get behind the wheel of the car and complete an entire session. He achieved this but was not completely comfortable with the behaviour of the car.

At Bathurst the lap time is influenced by your speed over the top of the mountain which starts at turn 7 (Fujitsu corner) and ends as you exit Forest Elbow onto Conrad. This timed sector is actually the shortest of the three sectors, the other two being from the start line to turn 7 and the final sector from Forest Elbow (entering Conrod) to the start/finish line. If a driver is not confident with the car over the top of the mountain then you are not going to achieve a competitive time.

On the other hand #33 and Scotty were consistently at or near the front of the time sheets and finished the session 4th, 2/10ths off Whincup who set the quickest time of the session.

Qualifying at Bathurst is the longest qualifying session of the year (except Sandown that incorporates races into qualifying) and lasts 40 minutes. The main reason behind this is the length and time of each lap. The circuit is 6.2km in length compared to most circuits that are approximately 3km long.

The allocated time for qualifying allowed for five qualifying attempts. Each attempt involves an out lap, qualifying lap and in lap which in total is 3 laps with the middle one being the hot/qualifying lap. We had pre determined to run four qualifying runs, sitting out one of the middle runs hence saving a set of green tyres. This was successful as Scotty placed P2 at the end of qualifying and making the Top 10 shootout. #34 and Moff was still not confident with the car and ended the session in P23.

At Bathurst this is not the disaster that it would be at a Sprint round or even one of the shorter endures. But, as much as qualifying is very important for track position and the confidence of the driver and crew in today’s Supercar racing Bathurst can be won from any position on the grid.

The atmosphere on the Mountain was as good as I have ever experienced over my many visits and late Saturday afternoon in the lead up to the shootout it was electric. Caruso (Nissan) having finished 10th in qualifying was first out, as the Top 10 is done in reverse order working from 10th to 1st and he did a tremendous job still sitting at the top of the sheets after the first 4 cars had completed their shootout lap. By the time Scotty came out with only Whincup to follow, Chaz Mostert (Prodrive) was quickest and Scotty was really pumped to put together a “perfect lap”.

As the lap unfolded he was neck and neck with the sector splits of Mostert and needed a quick clean run through the chase at the bottom of Conrod to give himself a chance of leaping to the top, we all held our breath and watched the clock stop with a green square indicating #33 was quickest, a mere 4/100ths quicker than Mostert, a truly great lap under enormous pressure and expectation.

Now Whincup had to repeat and slightly better what Scott had just done. The lap was nearly a repeat of Scott’s with the outcome again going down to the wire, where Jamie managed to gain a margin of only 6/100ths of a second to earn pole.

I know that we often go on about the competitiveness of our series but at a circuit that is over 6km in length and more than a 2 minute lap to have the top three drivers separated by 1/10th of a second is amazing. I take particular interest in all forms of Motorsport and there is no other form of Motorsport that can boast such competitiveness.

Saturday night and the focus was on the #34 car where the boys spent considerable time going over the data, driver feedback and set up of the car. As much as the crash on Thursday was significant it wasn’t to a level where the pickup points for the major suspension components were affected.

Sunday morning Warm Up and Moff felt the #34 was in better shape and was 13th quickest in the race lead up and all four drivers spent some time at the wheel.

During the race lead up I was particularly impressed with the number of Peter Brock’s race cars and of course they rekindled memories of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Brocky was certainly a hero of Motor racing in Australia and I believe the Brock name and legend will live on for many, many more generations that make the pilgrimage to Mt. Panorama.

I have been fortunate to experience many motor races around the world over the years and I can assure anybody that attends Bathurst that there is nothing else like it in the world. The closest to it is the Indianapolis 500 or Daytona 500 in the US. Sure Supercars do a fabulous job with this event but it is you, the fans that make the event so special. I could spend days wandering through the camp grounds admiring the set ups and effort that the campers go to, and the colour of flags, banners and race gear around the track is a real highlight. The City of Bathurst and residents and traders all seem to go to a tremendous effort to welcome the race teams into town and provide a great atmosphere for the fans.

As race time approaches I cannot help but get a little nervous. My thoughts are mainly with the crew of all the teams and the effort that everybody makes to get to the start line of this event each year. You really feel for anybody whose race is ended early. With Scotty sitting on the front row there is no better position than to race cleanly. On the other hand Moff will have to be more cautious as he attempts to move through the field. The National Anthem is sung by Natalie Bassingthwaighte and may I say one of the best renditions that I can recall. The air force jet does its usual thing and scares the absolute wits out of me and then it is race time.

The race is over 161 laps and the co-driver must do a minimum of 54 laps throughout the race. Each car has 9 sets of tyres of which most have used 6 sets for short runs through qualifying and practice and these are the sets that will be used first and the three green (new) sets that have been saved will be utilised in the final three stints of the race. Around Mt Panorama the cars use close to 5 litres of fuel per lap and when driven to their full potential can complete 22 to 23 laps per stint. The top speed down Mt.Panorama that we recorded over the weekend was 298km/h down Conrod straight.

Scotty and Moff both got away well with Scotty holding second and Moff quickly moving up through the field to be in 15th by lap 11 when we pitted him for the first time to put our two cars out of sequence in an attempt to avoid pit lane stacking. Bieber was put in the car and by the time he had completed two stints and handed the car back to Moff on lap 53 the #34 was in 9th position. In the meantime Scotty handed over to Wallee on lap 21 while in second and Wallee stayed in the car until lap 63. With Moff and Scotty both in the cars along with the main drivers in all the other cars the race was very settled.

On lap 74 Moff had worked his way up to 7th and was showing that as much as the car had struggled through practice and qualifying, the effort that everybody within GRM had made to find the right balance in the car was starting to show as Moff was one of the quickest cars on track. Bieber jumped back in and unfortunately had a radio malfunction with the crew. We could hear Bieb’s but he couldn’t hear us. Out came the pit board, something that I am more accustomed to. Bieb’s was asking questions and the answers along with how many laps he had remaining in the stint were placed on the board. One very important question he asked was “do I pit if there is a Safety Car?” and the answer was “yes”. On lap 92 the Safety Car came out as Andrew Jones (BJR) crashed and couldn’t get back to pit lane, but unfortunately Bieber didn’t anticipate the Safety Car and drove past pit lane. The remainder of the field pitted and Wallee had completed his 54 laps and handed the car back to Scotty in 6th. Bieb’s misjudgement of the Safety Car demoted the #34 from 8th to 18th.

Again Moff got in and was hard at it chasing the cars in front and after making up 4 places in 14 laps the engine expired on lap 108 while heading up Mountain straight. This was a very unfortunate end for Moffat/Golding as both guys drove impressively and had flown under the radar throughout the race. The Safety Car was again deployed to pick the #34 up and the field took the opportunity to stop for fuel and tyres and four laps later the Heimgartner/Russell Holden crashed and the field stopped again and with 47 laps to race only one more stop would be required. Scotty was sitting in 5th with Whincup (888) leading from Davison (Tekno), Van Gisbergen (888) and Tander (HRT).

Scotty was very confident in his radio chat with Krusty (Richard Hollway) and looked set to have a real crack in the closing stages. On lap 134 reigning Supercar champ Winterbottom beached his car in the sand trap at the chase and the Safety Car came out. From here there were 27 laps to home. Stiffy (Stefan Millard) was pushing the buttons on his calculator quicker than Scotty changing gears and worked out a consumption number required to get home. It was going to be touch and go, but the boys took on the gamble as others stopped two laps later as the Safety Car pulled into pit lane. It was now Coulthard (Penske) leading from Scotty.

The radio chat led us to believe that Coulthard had to stop again. Scotty was doing an excellent job in “rolling” across the mountain while using the necessary fuel to fend off Whincup down the straights.

With 11 laps to go and Scotty being chased by Whincup and Tander, Whincup took a dive down the inside of #33 into the Chase and made contact sending Scotty across the track onto the grass. As Whincup and Tander exited the Chase and toward the final corner Whincup backed off to readdress the position back to McLaughlin. Tander pounced as Whincup came off the throttle and at the same time Tander headed on the outside of Whincup McLaughlin shot back onto the circuit and the combination of Tander heading right and McLaughlin left they collided. Unfortunately the HRT car could not continue, Scotty limped into the pits and lost two laps. Whincup continued on, but was given a 15 second penalty. Davison/Webb (Tekno) were now second and maintained the gap at less than 15 seconds to win from Van Gisbergen/Premat and Percat/McConville third.

I have very mixed feelings regarding the race and in particular our performance. I was extremely proud of both of the drivers and the crew on #34 in the way that they competed and fought their way into what could have been a very high up finishing position only to have an engine failure let them down. Scotty and Wallee and #33 crew, well they were in a winning position and the fuel numbers were just in our favour to see the car get home. Would Scotty have held on? Well we will never know. Jamie’s move was ambitious but as an “old time racer” I don’t begrudge him having a go when he saw a small gap, I just wish he judged his dive a little better. Scotty’s re-entry to the circuit was “fast” but if Tander hadn’t been trying to pass the slowing Whincup they would not have collided. But, I don’t blame Tander for seeing the opportunity to pass both Whincup and McLaughlin when he could smell a win!

A very big congratulations to Will Davison and Jono Webb and his Team. Well done!

What a race!

I can’t wait for next year!

Garry

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