Garry’s Race Report for Perth
A very emotional weekend for all the team at GRM. I don’t want to harp on negatives as we still have a long season ahead and to date our performances have been very, very good.
But, I do want to address the decision by Polestar in Sweden (who control Volvo Motorsport worldwide) only to say that I am extremely disappointed by their statement last week saying that they will not extend their commitment to Supercars past this current season. I had personally spent several weeks in Sweden earlier this year and the clear message that was given was that Polestar supported our activities and it would be up to Volvo Car Australia to put a together a business case in regards to an extension into Season 2017 and beyond.
I have been around for over 50 years doing this and I have a very loyal and well credentialed group of boys and girls at our Dandenong South facility and I want to reassure you all that my plan is certainly to continue racing in 2017 and beyond.
Barry and I arrived in Perth on Friday morning and it was really great to see all the guys face to face and have a chat about everything that had gone on in the past few days and pass a message on regarding the situation that we are in. The important point wasn’t what Volvo were or weren’t doing, it was more about what and where GRM were doing and going. As a person I have faced many adversities over the years and you have two choices give up or keep going and it’s amazing that when you keep going what can happen and the satisfaction that you can personally feel when you know that you have achieved something when things aren’t going your way.
The trip to Perth is approximately 3,500 kms and Joey our transporter driver thrives when such a drive is ahead of him. On this particular trip he had the company of Shags (Simon Higgins) who was driving our Development Series transporter. Joey, the more senior member of this duo pulled rank and ensured that he drove the Volvo FH16 700 Globetrotter while Simon had the 600hp model. Both boys travelled well and enjoyed the comfort of the oversized bunk in the Globetrotter. The trucks left Saturday evening from Melbourne and arrived in Perth during the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The weekend of racing for GRM included both Supercar Racing and Development Series. The format for Supercars was 2x60min practice sessions on Friday and 1x120 km race (50 laps) on Saturday and 1x200 km (83 laps) on Sunday, each with their own qualifying.
Following Friday practice Scotty was 3rd and Moff 6th. The weather was inclement during this session with both slick and wet weather tyres required. We were generally happy with our pace; the only slight negative was we didn’t get a green run as it rained in the final minutes of practice. What this means is a run on new slick tyres at or near the end of the session. The idea of doing this is to ensure the behaviour of the car isn’t a lot different to as it has been on the tyres that you have been running during practice. The aim is to get the car set up to what the engineers and drivers believe is the best it can be and in theory when you put green (new) tyres on the car it should be quicker. If not we all scratch our heads!
Saturday and qualifying for Race 8 of the Championship turned out to be a farce. The normal sequence in qualifying is to go out on roaded (used) tyres and warm everything up, particularly the brakes over one or two laps, re enter pit lane put on a set of new tyres and complete a qualifying run. But, with the weather looking ominous as qualifying approached and a few spits of rain in pit lane all teams put new slicks on and when pit lane opened for qualifying the entire field darted out and the drivers did everything possible on this out lap to get temperature into both the tyres and brakes.
As the first cars crossed the start/finish line to begin a flying lap the rain increased and Caruso (Nissan) went straight off at turn 1 and was bogged in the sand trap. By this stage the cars that left pit lane first (Red Bull, Prodrive, Tekno, HRT) were half way through their laps. It was obvious that Caruso was going nowhere and the session would need to be red flagged, but the decision making was very delayed and by the time the red flag was waived the first 11 cars had completed a lap and the remaining 14 that were still on track time did not count. The heavens then really opened and with no chance of completing a qualifying lap on slicks there was no chance of qualifying any better than position 12. Scotty completed qualifying in 15th and Moff 24th. Although it was a controversial qualifying session, congratulations to Cameron Waters (Prodrive) on achieving his maiden pole in Supercar racing.
As the 120 km race approached yet again the weather was mixed with brief showers and then sunshine, but as the cars formed in pit lane the rain came and all of the teams removed the slicks and put wet weather tyres on. Starting back in the pack is always fraught with danger as you try and race your way forward. Scotty found this out on lap 1 when Dale Wood (Nissan) hit him in the front right wheel at turn 7. Moff began strongly and showed his driving talent in the wet moving from 24th to 18th by lap 10. On lap 12 Scotty stopped for slicks but was having trouble with a bent steering arm as a result of the Wood contact which particularly affected him at turn 4 (the only left hand turn) where he had massive understeer and the data showed that it was costing him half a second per lap. Moff stopped on lap 13. The race continued up front with Van Gisbergen leading from Mostert and Waters (Prodvie). By the time the second round of pit stops came around on lap 31 Scotty and Moff were 12th and 13th Van Gisbergen was pressing on in front with Mostert behind and now Whincup (888) third.
Tyre degradation was certainly now becoming evident with those that had pushed hard early. The Barbagallo circuit is extremely abrasive due to the sand in the soil that blows onto the circuit. The texture of the circuit is like exposed aggregate and really chews into the tyres if the driver “overdrives” the car. Taking this into account Lowndes’ (Team Vortex) engineer devised a two stop strategy which at the back end of the race really had some impact as Lowndesy came from the clouds to come from 20th on lap 30 to the lead by lap 46. A fantastic drive and strategy. Our boys were on the same strategy and were the two quickest cars on track late in the race; even outpacing Lowndes and Scotty finished 11th and Moff 14th. Overall a little disappointing as both cars showed speed (Moff set the quickest lap of the race and Scotty was losing .5 sec per lap because of the bent steering arm) but we didn’t manage to get ourselves out of the predicament that was dealt as a result of qualifying.
Saturday night and a check of the weather conditions looked much more favourable for Sunday. As usual the drivers and engineers compared notes and made some changes to set up in preparation for Sunday qualifying.
Saturday also saw Bieber (James Golding) and Richard Muscat compete in the Development Series (DVS). Bieber qualified 8th and Richard 14th and finish 10th and 13th. Probably a little disappointing considering the previous round at Phillip Island where Bieber had a win. On Sunday Bieber drove like a man possessed to finish 2nd after starting 10th and Richard 12th. A third race followed and Bieber on old tyres held on for 4th and Richard again moved further forward to 9th. A very solid job by all.
Sunday qualifying and we were quite confident of putting in a good showing, but this confidence was a little premature with Scotty managing 9th and Moff 20th. It appears that we didn’t manage the changing conditions as good as we possibly could have. An explanation of this is the track changes considerably after rain and it is “cleaned” and the car can react quite differently to what you expect and in this instance we didn’t get it 100% right. In saying that there was 4/10ths of a second from Moff to the pole sitting Mostert (Prodrive) followed by Lowndes and Winterbottom.
There was talk of many different strategies up and down pit lane as a result of Lowndes’ come from behind win yesterday. Each team was allocated five new sets of slick tyres at the beginning of the weekend. In normal circumstances 2 would be used on Saturday and three on Sunday. The fact that all of the lead teams from yesterday only stopped once and therefore only used one set of new slick tyres (as they started on wets) except for Lowndes , the expectation was that they would stop 3 times during the race and utilise all four new sets that they had. We only had three sets left for each car as we used two yesterday and would therefore only stop twice. As usual the Sunday race requires that you put a minimum 120 litres of fuel in each car during the race.
Basically our strategy for the race was to hold track position early and run for as long as possible on the first set of tyres. Both boys started well and by lap 10 Scotty was 8th and Moff had made up 6 places to be 14th. Interestingly Lowndes started on “old” tyres from yesterday and stopped on lap 10 when he had dropped from 5th to 9th. It appeared his engineers were planning on a mid to late race Safety Car and by that stage Craig would have the freshest tyres in the field, having completed 10 laps on oldies. Whincup (888) was leading the way, but had an off track moment on lap 14 that handed the lead to Mostert. On lap 25 Moff stopped for his first compulsory stop and three laps later Scotty was in and he took on 76 litres of fuel.
The race continued and ebbed and flowed according to the pit stop strategy, but was beginning to take shape. We could see that Scott had made up track time on the opposition and if he could manage his tyres during this middle stint that we should be able to get him on fresh rubber late and hopefully finish strong. Moff also was in a good position but was struggling with rear tyres wear (particularly left rear) and as the tyres degraded he was unable to complete the desired laps that had been engineered to the strategy. Moff stopped for his last stop on lap 54 and when Scotty pitted on lap 60 he was leading, but rejoined 9th. Lowndes who was running second to him pitted a lap later and re entered the track just in front of Scott, but on cold tyres Scotty pressured his way past.
By lap 67 Winterbottom led from McLaughlin, Lowndes, VanGisbergen and Rick Kelly (Nissan) but the tyres on the Ford were 7 laps older than Scotty’s. Scotty was reeling him in at more than 0.5 a second per lap and with an 8 second deficit and 16 laps left this was going to be a nail biter. With only a handful of laps to go Winterbottom was challenged by the lapped Aaren Russell who was on fresh tyres and trying to unlap himself, the immediate response by Frosty was to block and fight for position and this cost him precious 10ths, before he let Russell past. In the meantime Scotty had closed in and with two laps to go had go at Winterbottom but went too wide into turn 6, the final lap and pressuring hard yet still defending Lowndes Scotty settled for second. In the end one of the most memorable Sprint Round races that I can remember, the first 5 cars covered by 1.5 seconds and four different manufactures amongst those five cars.
We often have close finishes, but a race that ran green all of the way (no Safety Cars) and different strategies it really was an incredible race.
As a sport we should all be extremely proud of what we do. In life there are always knockers and people wanting to pull you down, or say “you should do this, or you should do that”, there are those that say “this racing is better than that racing” and many other things. But, let me tell you this I have been around a long time, seen racing all over the world and all types of categories and we have what everybody loves, Supercar Racing and to top it off we have some of the most professional teams in the world and an organisation that knows how to entertain.
In finishing I would like to thank Volvo Car Australia and their Dealers for the support over the past week and certainly acknowledge the wonderful facility that Volvo put together at Barbagallo for their Dealers and customers, it was truly the best and most friendly hospitality facility that I have seen at an Australian race track.
Let me tell you, I can’t wait for Winton!