Garry’s Darwin Race Report

The Darwin event is my favourite Super Sprint event on the calendar. The atmosphere in Darwin is tremendous and the local community led by the Northern Territory Government really get behind the event.

Also, heading to the top end from Melbourne in June is certainly a great improvement weather wise and you can be assured that it will be 33 deg every day. The Hidden Valley circuit is spectator friendly, in that you can locate yourself on the inside of the circuit and see much of the track. Spectators are able to get quite close to the action as the track is in an amphitheatre type setting.

Joey our transporter driver left our Dandenong South headquarters in his Volvo FH16 700 on Friday evening just before midnight and arrived into Darwin on Tuesday afternoon at 5.00pm. The trip to Darwin is 3850 kms and FH16 used 2150 litres of fuel. If we went back 10 years we used to use over 3000 litres of fuel, Volvo have certainly led the way in fuel economy when it comes to prime movers.

Joe is certainly well known along the route to Darwin as he is one of only a couple of guys that have driven Supercar race transporters to the top end since the first race in 1998. Joey, when time permits always spends time explaining what we do and “showing off” his truck. An interesting story unfolded on this trip to Darwin. First, we need to go back 12 months to the 2015 event and on the journey to Darwin while stopped at Tenant Creek Joe spent some time with an older couple and their daughter who were locals. Joe as “proud as a dog with four balls” explained to the people what we did and how good his truck was and so on. This year we were informed that the daughter of this couple had a baby the following week to this encounter with Joe, and the baby was a boy. So impressed by Joey the daughter named the baby Joe! FYI we did go back through Joe’s log book to confirm that he hadn’t been travelling in the area 9 months earlier. Well done Joey, you represent my Team in a manner that makes me very proud.

In recent years the Hidden Valley circuit has been one that we have not quite mastered and as much as we do our homework diligently before each event the engineers certainly focused on areas that we believed could improve our performance. Friday practice consisted on 2x1 hour sessions and following practice Scotty was 4th and Moff 7th. Whincup (888) was quickest.

The results of these sessions can sometimes be a little flattering if you use good tyres and others don’t. For Friday practice teams are able to use tyres from previous race meetings and each team is also given a new/green set which at the conclusion of the day must be handed back therefore cannot be used over the weekend. Teams that have a bank of “good” tyres because of previous race DNF’s may opt to hand the new tyres back and save them for another practice session. The aim in practice is to set the car up as close to what is perfect for the driver. This set up can be markedly different on a new tyre as to what it is on a used tyre. The engineers and tyre technicians go through the bank of tyres and choose the “best” that we have from previous race meetings and work up to putting the green set on when the driver is most comfortable with the car. The problem is that sometimes the dynamics of the car can change quite markedly when the new tyre is put on.

After all of this we were satisfied with our position following practice and believed only minor changes were necessary heading into qualifying on Saturday.

Friday night and the Chief Minister holds a reception for the Teams at Parliament House. This has become an annual event and is quite spectacular as it is located on the lawns of Parliament House overlooking the Port of Darwin and Timor Sea. Some very good news was announced this year with the Darwin Supercar contract being extended to 2030 and the potential for a night race in the not too distant future.

We all got to bed at a sensible hour on Friday night as we had to head to the track at 6.00am on Saturday as the boys had arranged a race around the circuit. I was on my toes and headed off while they were all waffling and was 2k’s into the 3k lap before the rest of the boys started. I was sure that this was my chance to “win” but as the sun began to provide early glimpses of morning light and I was halfway down the main straight to the finish line I was rounded up by the boys and disappointingly finished last. But, I will be back! Next time I will give myself a 2.5k head start.

Qualifying and the result for us was disappointing considering our practice form. Scotty was 15th and Moff 20th. Of course when a performance like this occurs when it appears that you have good speed you need to analyse why? The reason appears that we didn’t go “hard” enough in our first qualifying run. In the 15 minute sessions you complete two qualifying runs of 1-2 laps each. The fastest times are normally recorded at the very end more rubber is laid onto the track. Our approach is to be a little more conservative on the first run and give it 110% on the second. The engineers were watching the sky as there was cloud cover and it looked like thickening. This makes a difference to the car speed; the cars are always quicker when there is cloud cover as the track temp drop s slightly. The problem was the cloud cleared rather than thickened and opposite to most qualifying sessions it was the times set early in the session that dominated the top positions.

Back in 15th and 20th you certainly put yourself in a position of being caught up in either your own or other peoples scraps. With Scotty positioned well in the Championship, but also keeping in mind we are still relatively early in the season it would be important for him to not DNF and for Moff we are really looking for a result that we believe will give him the confidence and belief that he can run at the front. Off the line Moff certainly showed that picking up an incredible 9 places on the opening lap moving from 20th to 11th with Scotty in 13th. This all occurred after Lowndes was hit from behind at turn 5 as the cars concertinaed and Rick Kelly (Nissan) couldn’t avoid the rear of Lowndes’ car.

Unfortunately a couple of laps later Moff radioed in that his steering wasn’t feeling right and had to pit. It appeared that contact during these opening laps had damaged a power steering fitting. The race was led by Michael Caruso (Nissan) until he was passed by Van Gisbergen on lap 4. Scotty had driven smartly to work his way into the top 10 by lap 6. The race required one compulsory pit stop and all four tyres had to be changed. We also planned on a quick splash of fuel. Our plan was to bring Scotty in around lap 15 and other teams began pitting from lap 11. Following the compulsory stops Scotty was 11th, having lost a position to Winterbottom (Prodrive) during the stops. Following a late penalty for an infringement on an earlier Safety Car restart where Van Gisbergen came up alongside Caruso on the restart but passed him before the control line, Scotty moved up to tenth. Caruso went on to win from Whincup (888) and Mostert (Prodrive).

Overall quite an entertaining race and from our perspective I was disappointed for Moffat and pleased that Scott was able to salvage an “ok” result from the disappointment of qualifying.

Saturday night and the engineers and drivers spent considerable time analysing what they could from the day’s activities while the mechanics turned their hand to panel beating to straighten the battle damaged cars for Sunday.

One obvious point was it was difficult to pass on the circuit and tyre degradation was not extreme. Hidden Valley was resurfaced a little more than 12 months ago and is still relatively smooth. It is not until the aggregate on the track starts to come through that tyre degradation increases. A smooth track is great for lap times and the drivers like to drive on it, but racing improves in regards to passing when the track surface “roughens” up.

Qualifying for Sunday was a 20 minute session and the aim was to be inside the top 10 as this race features a Top 10 shootout. Scotty was at the top of times after his second of a planned three qualifying runs. Krusty (Richard Hollway) decided to save the tyres that were ready for the third run as he was confident that Scott’s time would keep him in the 10 and he would then have a new set that he could use in the shootout. This all worked out as Scott qualified 6th. Lowndes was quickest. Moff was 4/10ths off pole, but yet again as we see consistently 10ths of seconds equate to many grid positions. The top 25 cars were separated by a little more than 7/10ths.

The Top 10 shootouts are held from 10th to 1st. Scotty was 5th out and completed a solid, yet no brilliant lap. Tod Kelly, 10th qualifier and 1st man out did a tremendous job to set the second quickest time behind Van Gisbergen. Scotty ended up 7th.

Thankfully today there was a nice breeze and in the shade the day was pleasant. The Hidden Valley facility looked a picture with the track side signs all fresh and bright, the kerbs freshly painted and the new race control building on top of the garages only recently been constructed. The drivers parade was completed on the back of Harley Davidson’s and all was ready for the 200km (70 lap) race.

The lights went out and the race began. As the cars raced into turn 1, like yesterday it looked like there was going to be action in the chasing pack. As the cars went through turns 3 and 4 Lee Holdsworth shot off onto the grass and made heavy contact with the concrete wall on the inside of the circuit.

Moments later both Coulthard and Mostert came off second best with a tussle that included Courtney and Moffat and both cars were done for the day. The Safety Car came out and the entire field raced into pitlane. As with all of these early SC periods pitlane is mayhem as teams queue their cars for service. The reason for this is if you do not come in more time is lost staying out and pitting later, as much as one car has to wait you are normally better off. As Scott was in front of Moff he pitted first and the guys did a tremendous job to have Scotty released into pitlane with Moff only having to wait for a few seconds. As Scott went up pitlane on his exit he was blocked by Pither who was queuing for his pit bay and this allowed the cars in front of Pither including Courtney who started 20th to exit in front of Scott. The result was that having entered pitlane in 5th McLaughlin exited in 7th. Moff had done an extremely good job as he muscled his way in and around the mid pack carnage to keep the #34 car straight. After another smooth job by the boys in pitlane Moff rejoined the race in 13th. The Safety Car period went on for 5 or 6 laps as the track was cleared of the damaged cars. On the restart Lowndes (888) led the pack away from Todd Kelly (Nissan) and Winterbottom and Van Gisbergen.

As they approached turn 1 Winterbottom pressured Kelly while Van Gisbergen was menacing Winterbottom and the result was Winterbottom slammed into the back of Kelly who did an exceptional job to somehow not spear off, yet he lost several places. The front of Winterbottom’s Ford was damaged and required immediate attention and he pitted. His day got worse as he was also dealt a drive through penalty for the misdemeanour. In the meantime Scott and Moff were doing a very sensible job in 5th and 9th respectively. Late in the race Scotty was clearly quicker than Will Davison (Tekno) whom he was behind, but Will drove smartly to keep him at bay. Lap after lap Scotty would lurk up alongside him through turns 4, 5 and 6, but could not make a pass stick. By now Courtney (HRT) and Caruso (Nissan) had closed in on the back of Scotty.

McLaughlin kept at it and tried several different places to overtake and on lap 40 after all the lead guys had completed their final stops Scotty appeared to get passed Davison through turn 5 but was now positioned on the outside into the hairpin at turn 6. He desperately tried to find that car length to slot in front of Will, but couldn’t and was hung out wide and Courtney and Caruso swooped. Scotty was now 7th, where he eventually finished. Moff was in relatively clean air and catching this battle group in front and I was happy with his performance to finish 10th. Up front Van Gisbergen led from a late charging Tim Slade (BJR) who continued his form from Winton and Lowndes was 3rd.

It’s amazing when others suffer considerable damage and more particularly when somebody is hurt; as Lee Holdsworth was (broken pelvis) a little “poor” form on the track doesn’t seem quite so significant. But, we are a Team wanting to win. Each and every one of my boys and girls want to win and to that end we had an average weekend. But, we can pack our truck up, replace a few damaged panels and general “gravel rash” from a weekend of Supercar racing and prepare for Townsville in 3 weeks, others have much bigger challenges.

Thanks and I certainly can’t wait to make it to the streets of Townsville!

Garry

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