Garry’s Gold Coast 600 Race Report

We were really keen to get back racing after the manner in which Bathurst finished and the team were really keen to earn a result that we thought worthy of the effort that all had put in over the Endurance Cup part of the season, but also with the car speed that we had been showing.

The Gold Coast street race event has been a continuous one since 1991 and was originally a marquis event for Indy cars, but since 2008 Supercars have been the frontline act. It’s amazing how quick those 25 years have gone.

Joey headed off in the Volvo Globetrotter FH16 700hp with the B-double trailers in tow on Sunday morning and arrived and washed up the transporter on Tuesday. With limited space in pit lane each team is provided with containers that are packed with the necessary spares and pit set up equipment and transported separately by Gibson Freight to Surfers Paradise. The transporters are parked away from the circuit and the cars are unloaded and taken by a flat bed tray truck to the temporary pit facility. The logistics of an event like this are enormous but has certainly been streamlined over the years. Cowboy (Team Manager - Dean Cowling) and a small set up crew arrived on Wednesday and along with Joey they set up the pit facility for the weekend of racing ahead.

The “buzz” around the circuit at the street race events is certainly very evident from the moment that you arrive at the track, they have quite a different feel to a traditional circuit event. Fortunately, I have been around for quite a while and I often read and listen to “traditionalists” make comments on street circuits, that they are not “pure” race tracks. In some ways such comments are true, but the facts are with the cost of real estate we are not going to see any new race circuits in Australian capital cities and if we are to showcase our sport in front of the masses it requires racing on street circuits. It appears the future of permanent race tracks is in the rural regions of our country.

The Gold Coast 600 is raced on a circuit that is 2.984 kms in length with 15 corners and is highlighted by the back straight that runs along Main Beach Parade on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Both the front and rear straights have chicanes that for the driver to get the very best out of the car must be attacked over the kerbs. The skill here is to take as much kerb as possible without triggering the “shortcut detection” sensor. If during qualifying you trigger the shortcut detection monitor the lap does not count and throughout the race after triggering it 3 times you are given a warning and if a fourth breach occurs the driver is issued a drive through penalty.

The race weekend is divided into 2x300km (102 lap) races. The co-driver must complete minimum of 34 laps in each of the races. Friday’s schedule incorporated 3x30min practice sessions of which the middle session was for the co-drivers only. Following these sessions all four drivers felt very comfortable with the cars, particularly how they handled the kerbs through the chicanes and were well placed 2nd and 3rd behind the 888 Holden of Van Gisbergen.

This weekend was the final round of the Endurance Cup and again David Wall was pairing with Scotty and James “Bieber” Golding with Moff. With such a positive day you would think the GRM boys and girls would put the covers on the cars and race down to the beach for a swim! And, yes a few years ago that is what we did. But, today it’s vital to extract every little “poofteenth” out of the car and the driver. The Engineers go over and over the data, analysing every corner and the line taken, the braking point, the braking pressure, the exit and the level of acceleration and on it goes. With both cars being very competitive your ability for improvement is greater as you may find strengths in #33 that can be shared with #34 and vice versa. While I was out having a beer and maintaining sponsor relations the crew were hard at it. I am so grateful for the workforce that we have at GRM and their level of commitment to their jobs.

Saturday and it was straight into qualifying. The session was 20 minutes and this allowed enough time for three qualifying attempts. Following on from the impressive practice of yesterday both Moff and Scotty were straight on the pace. Scotty was pipped by Van Gisbergen for pole by 2/100ths and Moff was fourth and only 2/10ths back. I know I often point out the closeness of our racing, but again this was displayed. At a circuit with 15 corners and a lap time in the 1.10 - 1.11 range, 24 of the 26 car field were covered by 9/10ths. I noticed in Formula 1 in the US on the weekend that 1.2 seconds separated the top 5 in qualifying. I know it is totally different in regards to technology but we should all be so proud of the competitiveness of Supercar racing.

With the co-drivers required to complete a minimum of 34 laps the strategy is to start them in the car, complete their required laps and get Scotty and Moff in for the remainder of the race. This plan is very simple when the race runs “green” throughout the first 34 laps, but the deployment of the Safety Car can change strategy. The important numbers to know in regards to strategy are of course the 34 lap minimum the co-driver must be behind the wheel and fuel usage. Up and down pit lane the fuel usage of all the cars is separated by mere millilitres and they are very, very similar. Driven to their maximum capacity the cars can all do in the range of 41-42 laps per tank of fuel. This number is obviously influenced by Safety Car periods when a driver can conserve fuel usage at the lower speeds. The tricky decision for teams is when a Safety Car period occurs during the co-driver part of the race. Pitting under SC is always more time effective, but it can then result in the co-driver having to stay in the car longer than the minimum 34 laps.

As the cars lined up on the grid for Saturday’s 300km race the Prodrive Falcon of Winterbottom/Canto was the only car that had the “main” driver behind the wheel and this paid early dividends for Winterbottom as he went from 9th to 4th in 2 laps. The 97 Van Gisbergen/Premat car led from Whincup/Dumbrell with Wallee in the #33 3rd and Bieb’s 5th. On lap 23 Jack Le Brocq (Cam Waters Prodrive Falcon) crashed triggering the SC. At this stage Wallee and Bieb’s were 4th and 5th. Bieb’s had to queue behind Wallee and this resulted in the #34 exiting pit lane in 12th while Wallee benefited from Dumbrell having to queue being Premat and the #33 rejoined in 3rd. The engineering group had their calculators out to calculate whether the co-drivers could still be removed at lap 34 or whether they would need to run longer to get the car home on one more stop. Simply, stopping and refuelling at lap 23 would get you to lap 64 or 65 and from there with only 37 or 38 laps to go you could get home. The downside is the potential time loss between the co and main drivers. The engineers calculate the average lap time of each along with the time spent in pit lane and a decision is made. Stiffy (Stefan Millard) is very, very calm in these decision making situations, but a timely SC as a result of Karl Reindler (Team 18) hitting the fence on the entry to turn 3 on lap 35 gave the teams the opportunity to pit and complete the driver changes. Again #34 was in the position where Bieb’s had to queue behind the #33 and the GRM pit crew completed a very, smooth and faultless stop to get Scotty out and the #34 shot in as the boys dispatched the used tyres off the #33 and replaced the #34 tyres, refuelled and Moff got in behind the wheel.

There were 7 cars in the field that did not take advantage of this SC planning instead on getting through to lap 61 or 62 when they could refuel and get home. This resulted in Scotty rejoining 11th and Moff 20th. Both boys drove without error and put together a very consistent stint through to laps 62 and 64 when both cars completed their final stop before the run home. Scotty had worked his way up to 2nd by this stage behind Van Gisbergen and Moff had moved from 20th to 10th. In the final 40 lap race to the flag Scott applied pressure to the #97 but Van Gisbergen responded, in the meantime Whincup was lurking up behind Scotty and naturally the memories of Bathurst came to mind, but Scotty pressed on maintaining a sensible gap to split the two Red Bull cars and finish 2nd.

Moff was doing a fantastic job a little further back after having to fight his way back through the field after the earlier stacking and was 7th with 5 laps to go before Tander had a coming together with Coulthard on the main straight sending the DJR Penske car into the pit lane wall and Tander receiving a drive through. Moff did a tremendous job to have both Volvo’s finish in the top 5.

Over the years we have achieved some great results that I am very proud of and the feeling I had on Saturday night was as proud as I have been in my many many years competing in Motorsport. Sure we didn’t win but to fight back from Bathurst where Moff had an engine failure after a tremendous race day effort by the #34 car and we all know what happened to the #33, and to top it all off the legal action that begun between ourselves and Volvo the week following I was just so proud of everybody for their effort and attitude throughout this tumultuous period.

Saturday night and as much as I had a smile on my face as my head hit the pillow (I’m ageing as it was only 9.15pm) we were only 300km into a 600km event.

Yet again Sunday started with a 20 minute qualifying session, but this time was followed by a Top 10 shootout. Of course the aim is to put together a “quick” lap, but your focus is more about maintaining a position in the 10 rather than being the quickest. I could say we planned it perfectly as both boys just made it with Scotty 10th and Moff 9th, but that is all that was required.

Prior to the shootout there was a major crash in the V8 Ute race that saw cars spread across the track and water and oil spilling. The clean up took some time and as much as “kitty litter” is spread over any fluids that have spilled on to the track surface and the track marshals do an exceptional job in cleaning the track, it is very difficult to commit 110% on a qualifying shootout lap when you are unsure of the grip level. Being the first car out Scotty put together what later proved to be a brilliant lap, jumping from 10th to 4th. Moff also was very solid in improving from 9th to 7th. Jamie Whincup edged out his 888 teammate Van Gisbergen for the pole and another very notable performance was that of Dave Reynolds (Erebus) who qualified 3rd.

The same strategy applied in regards to co-drivers starting for today’s race and this time all of the teams started with their co-drivers. As the lights went out Wallee didn’t jump as well as hoped and was swamped into the first chicane and by the end of the first lap had dropped back to 7th. Bieb’s started well and was one spot ahead of the #33. Out in front it was the two 888 cars with Dumbrell leading from Premat. Lap 16 Richie Stanaway (Super Black Ford) and Jack Perkins (HRT) made contact heading into turn 4 and Stanaway’s car was left stranded causing a full course yellow and SC. An immediate decision was required as to whether we pitted. The dime was this. Pitting at lap 16 and with several laps to be run under SC to clear the track it would be possible on full fuel to run all the way through to lap 60, leaving only 43 laps for the main driver to complete. The calculation slightly favoured pitting and that is what all teams did apart from us. Sure many may say that we should have followed the others in, but it was apparent that the 888 cars were dominating and a different strategy would have to be taken if we were a chance of beating them. Our hope from here would be for a green race (no SC) from here. As everybody pitted except Bieb’s and Wallee the Volvo’s were 1, 2 on track but of course one pit stop short. On the restart #34 got away well and Bieb’s did a tremendous job to race for 16 laps with the most experienced and quickest co-driver in the field (Paul Dumbrell) pressing against his rear bumper. On lap 34 #34 stopped for tyres, fuel and driver change and Wallee who was now 7th stopped a lap later and handed over to Scotty. The boys had a big job ahead of them now back in 20th and 21st, but they were the only “main game” drivers at the wheel and as much as tyre preservation was important they had the “race goggles” on and attacked.

Scotty punched out quickest laps, lap after lap and by lap 65 when all of the teams had taken their last stops had worked his way into 11th. Moff also had made progress but wasn’t as satisfied with the handling of his car and was up to position 15. The closing 25 laps were near the best that I have seen McLaughlin drive. Sure, he had a car under him that he was completely comfortable and confident in and he passed experienced campaigners one after the other. Sitting 4th with 10 laps to go Winterbottom was in his sights, but 8 seconds up the road. Scotty had been gaining at approximately half a second a lap on the #1, and we were aware that following their strategy to only have one stop following the lap 16 SC stop, as with the rest of the field that they would be conserving fuel so as to make it home. This information inspired Scotty further as the team sensed a podium and he produced the pass of the year as he “slid” past Frosty into the hairpin on lap 96, I had goosebumps as I watched the Volvo slide sideways with the front wheels locked and somehow found its way up the inside of the Prodrive Falcon. I have since watched replays of the pass and as much as it was fantastic to watch and under the circumstances Scotty did a brilliant job to not fence the car, Frosty was very “kind” to Scotty as he could have taken him out. Thanks Frosty!

Moff pressed on and considering where he was mid race did a respectable job to bring the #34 home 12th. The 888 boys led by Whincup/Dumbrell won from Van Gisbergen/Premat and the Wilson Security GRM Volvo of Scotty and Wallee 3rd. Congratulations must go to Roland and the 888/Team Vortex team filling 3 of the top four positions on Sunday only separated by the Volvo and 3 of the top 6 on Saturday with the two Volvo’s and the Winterbottom/Canto Ford separating them.

I also want to acknowledge the performance of our co-drivers throughout the Endurance Cup. James “Bieber” Golding had one of the most difficult initiations that you can have at Sandown where he crashed heavily after a tyre blow. This was followed by a small mistake during practice at Bathurst, where there is no room for any mistakes that saw him hit the wall. He bounced back during his co-driver stints in the race and did a very good job. Over the GC weekend which is a track where he has never driven and isn’t an easy circuit to get a handle on, he improved stint after stint and his drive on Sunday from lap 16 to lap 34 is as good a performance I have seen from a rookie. Wallee, well you should be very proud of yourself. It’s been a busy time for you jumping out of the Porsche into the Volvo over the three endurance rounds and you have done it all with a minimum of fuss and have always kept the car clean for Scotty to bring it home. To see the tear in your mum’s eyes when you stood up on the dais is the reason I do what I do!

I can’t wait for Pukekohe to see all my bros!

Garry

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