Garry’s Race Report: Auckland SuperSprint
Going to New Zealand is certainly a highlight for the Team, particularly Scott who always enjoys heading over the ditch to see his “bros”.
This weekend I had to leave it to the boys and miss my first Pukekohe race as I had made a commitment to Volvo to attend the Volvo Apprentice of the Year awards in Sydney which I have attended over the past 3 years. Apprentice mechanics are always very special to me as that is how my journey began back in the early 1960’s. The Australian Volvo Dealer Network has developed an excellent scheme for apprentice motor mechanics and I am very proud to attend the Awards and acknowledge the next generation of mechanics coming through.
The result was I was able to sit back on the lounge and enjoy the Foxtel coverage. I have since spoken to the boys to obtain a few more details in preparation of my Race Report.
New Zealand is the only event all year when Joey (our transporter driver) flies with the GRM Team to the races. Last Sunday he fired up the Volvo Globetrotter FH16 700 and headed to Avalon airport where the cars were loaded on to a Gibson Freight jumbo and flown to NZ. Each team are also provided with two 3m cubed storage containers that we fill with the necessary spares and workshop equipment that is normally stored in the transporter.
The Team travelled to Auckland on Wednesday arriving mid afternoon travelling the 45 minutes south to Pukekohe to begin setting up the garages for the weekend. This job is completed on Thursday. Many teams stay in Auckland but we have stayed in Pukekohe at the Counties Inn for the past four seasons. The vibe around Pukekohe is really great and the locals get into the swing of things and make the Supercar Teams feel particularly welcome.
The weekend of racing provides for 4 x 10 minute qualifying sessions and 4 x 100 km races, two of each on Saturday and Sunday. Prior to this there are 3 x 30 minute practice sessions on Friday. The Pukekohe circuit is built around a horse racing track, not dissimilar to Sandown here in Melbourne. Like Sandown there are long straights at the front and back of the circuit tied together with some technical little corners and a hairpin.
From the beginning of the weekend the guys were having trouble navigating turn 4 as cars were cutting through turn 3 and dragging gravel onto the race line. If you followed a car through that had done this you became a passenger as the car slid into turn 4 and off the circuit. Many were caught out including both Scott and James and the rear of Scotty’s car collided quite heavily with the tyre barrier. Following practice the common theme was a lack of grip. The tyres for the weekend are the Dunlop Hard tyre.
The soft tyre would provide more grip and potentially more exciting racing but following the tyre failure that Craig Lowndes experienced at this circuit last year the hard compound is deemed safer.
Following practice the #33 and #34 were 17th and 18th. The story for each of the cars was a little different with Scotty not quite nailing his “fast” effort as he approached Tim Slade on the final corner and ran wide. The data showed he lost several tenths and as such we felt the car was good for a position well inside the 10. On the other hand Moff couldn’t find the feel required to give him the confidence to have a “real” go, and was certainly still searching at the end of practice.
As a Team we have had the best year since 2000, and as much as Triple 888 have been the dominant team we have been battling both Prodrive and HRT for second in the Championship. With only two rounds to go it really is up for grabs who can finish runner up to Triple 888 and as much as we are in this sport to win, to potentially finish runner up to a Champion team like Triple 888 is something very worthwhile aiming for.
In regards to the Driver’s Championship Scotty is in a position to ruin the Triple 888 party as he has Lowndesy in his sights for 3rd.
When travelling to New Zealand we are well looked after by the local Volvo distributor who kindly supply cars to the team and more importantly support at the race meeting. On Thursday night Sally, Moff, Scotty and Barry spent time with staff of Volvo New Zealand and one employee was lucky enough to win a hot lap with Scotty on Friday.
Friday night and as the boys would have been tinkering with the cars I was sitting at home wishing I was there with the Team, but certainly enjoying the lovely roast chicken that Kaye had cooked for dinner!
Saturday and back to back 10 minute qualifying sessions for Races 24 and 25. The strategy here given the time allocated is to head out on tyres previously used in practice and put together a “solid” lap with the driver taking particular attention to the handling of the car and having to make immediate decisions as to whether he wants any changes. Often these decisions are not easy as the car can behave quite differently on a roaded tyre than to how it will on a green (new) tyre. The cars then re-entered pit lane and the green tyres were put on, with the clock now under 3 minutes remaining in the session. The time would allow for an out lap where effort is put into getting heat into the tyres, particularly the fronts by swerving side to side and then two flying laps. At the end of this process Scotty qualified 3rd and 8th and Moff 25th and 22nd. The Triple 888 duo of Van Gisbergen and Whincup were 1 and 2 in both qualifying sessions.
Race 24 and Scotty jumped well and loomed up alongside and slightly in front of Van Gisbergen into turn 1, but with the track changing direction into turn 2 Van Gisbergen hung on the outside of Scotty through turn 1 only to take the upper hand into turn 2, great driving and more importantly fantastic racing by both boys.
As much as Moff had qualified back his start was also impressive and he was on the attack from the start. It’s obvious that Moff didn’t qualify where either he or the Team were satisfied, but what did satisfy me was his approach to the race and by race end he had worked his way to 20th. The race was won by Whincup from Van Gisbergen, with Scotty the best of the rest in 3rd.
Race 25 and again the Triple 8 cars dominated but this time Van Gisbergen held out Whincup who put up a spirited fight in the early laps. Back further Scotty tussled with Winterbottom (Prodrive) and Davison (Tekno) and finished 7th, more importantly 8 positions in front of Lowndesy, narrowing that gap for 3rd in the Championship. Moff was the biggest mover in the pack racing from 22nd to 14th and moving into Sunday’s activities on a positive note.
Saturday night and it is fireworks season in Pukekohe and they can be bought on every street corner. Of course all of the young men in our Team are extremely sensible, but they also enjoy a bit of fun. Led by Gypsy (Jeffrey Marshall) I am told that there was quite a bit of laughter and fun had as the night sky was lit up.
Sunday morning and the boys held pit stop practice before breakfast. At each race meeting Cowboy (Team Mgr., Dean Cowling) schedules pit stop practice and although there are no pit stops scheduled for this round it is vital to keep the guys sharp on this aspect of the sport and also begin training less experienced team members for these duties. I often say it, but the ability of the guys doing the stops is missed because it all happens so smoothly, but for any of you doing a Team Members pit tour ask to feel the weight of a tyre gun and imagine holding it in one hand and a wheel in the other with the 800deg. brake rotors glowing directly in front of you as the driver screams to a holt and is in more eager to get going. It’s not easy!! And that is why I am the “boss” so I don’t have to do it!
A repeat of yesterday in regards to format for races 26 and 27. In the first qualifying McLaughlin was 8th and Moffat 15th and for a hat trick of poles Van Gisbergen again showed his domination of the Pukekohe track. The second qualifying saw both Volvo’s in the top 10 with Scott jumping to the top of the sheets only to be pipped by those two Triple 8 cars in the dying seconds of qualifying. This time Whincup just nudged out Van Gisbergen by 1/100th of a second and the #33 only 2/100ths further back. I often point out the competitiveness of the Supercar series and again the closeness was evident with only 4/10ths of a second between Van Gisbergen on pole and Moffat 15th.
We take particular interest in the World Touring Car Championship as Volvo compete in that series and at their last round in China there was 2.5 seconds from 1st to 15th in qualifying, with the Volvo in 5th yet still 1.3 seconds slower than the pole. In Supercars the entire field in many events is covered by less than a second.
Race 26 and it was Winterbottom (Prodrive) off the second row who got the jump on the field and led from start to finish. The action that many have been anticipating as the battle between Van Gisbergen and Whincup is reaching the final stages of the season came on lap 12 when Whincup saw an opening on the inside of Van Gisbergen but as the #97 turned into the hairpin with a late apex and leaving the door open on the inside. Whincup sensed an opportunity and pounced but in doing so locked his rear brakes and as Van Gisbergen turned Whincup was there on his inside and they made contact that saw both cars pirouette with Van Gisbergen spinning and Whincup rejoining the circuit but having to wait and readdress the position to VanGiz. In the meantime Scotty moved up to 5th and Moff was 11th having just passed Tander. Whincup was issued a drive through penalty and Van Gisbergen drove like a man possessed to fight back to third, with the race won by Winterbottom (Prodrive). Both Scotty and Moff struggled for grip late, with the #33 7th and #34 12th.
There was much anticipation for race 27, with Whincup and Van Gisbergen again sitting next to each other on the front row. Scotty sat behind them and was eyeing off the gap between the two of them hoping to leap off the line and blaze through the middle of them.
Unfortunately for Scotty, Whincup started well and Van Gisbergen slipped in behind him. Scotty held onto third with the Prodrive Ford’s of Mostert and Winterbottom harassing from behind. Moff held position in 10th and chased Scott Pye (DJR Penske) throughout the 35 lap race while defending the Nissan’s of Todd Kelly and Michael Caruso. McLaughlin drove superbly as the pressure from Mostert was applied lap after lap and I sat on my couch praying that he would hold onto third, which he did. Jamie Whincup won from his teammate Shane Van Gisbergen.
It was of course a different perspective for me sitting at home and watching, but I was impressed with the coverage and considering the racing was at times a little processional they found ways to keep you interested.
To the New Zealand crowd and pre race supporting acts you all really add to the atmosphere of this event. I was disappointed that I wasn’t there to see the Haka live or to listen to both the New Zealand and Australian anthems sung by the same lady, but it all looked wonderful on television.
To Roland and the Triple 8 team congratulations on a dominant weekend, and to my Team I’m proud of you all and let’s put our best foot forward and finish strongly in Sydney.
Heading to Sydney Scotty is 21 points behind Craig Lowndes. Position wise this would mean that assuming both finished inside the top 15 in both races Scott would need to be at least two positions in front of Craig in both races to overtake him.
In the Teams Championship we are 37 points behind HRT for second with Triple 8 already securing the Championship. This is a pretty simple one, both Moff and Scotty need to finish in front of Tander and Courtney and we should make up the deficit.