Winton Race Report
The trip to Winton is one that I have completed many, many times over the years. Of course my very early days of racing in the early 1960’s ventured past Benalla to Albury-Wodonga and the Hume Weir Motor Racing Circuit.
I have many fond memories towing my early model Holden (FX) up the Hume Highway on an A-Bar behind a Vauxhall Velox and even recall having to fire the FX up and having to push the Vauxhall the final 20 miles to the circuit.
How things have changed. We (I mean Joey) travel in absolute style in the Volvo Globetrotter FH16 700hp prime mover with not only two race cars in the trailers behind, but an arsenal of spare parts and engineering equipment that absolutely bamboozles me.
I cannot help but reminisce of the “good old days” but I certainly appreciate where we are today and the manner in which Motor Racing has developed in our country. Over the years I have travelled to many countries and experienced many different forms of Motor Racing at many different venues and we should be tremendously proud of our product. Of course we will always have knockers and there are always ways in which we can improve our sport.
I must commend the Winton Motor Racing Club on how they have created a very family friendly weekend with in excess of 500 camp sites taken up by families who enjoyed live music on Friday and Saturday nights. I spent some time over in the camp ground on Saturday night and the smell of the camp fires and meals been cooked on barbecues and camp ovens was extremely pleasant. Observing all of this activity gave me the thought that we should have a “Country and Western” weekend of racing, and Winton is the ideal location. Imagine bull riding, country and western bands, utes and so on. I really believe we could create a fabulous weekend of fun, culminating in a Country and Western Supercar winner.
I was particularly looking forward to the weekend as we were running three cars for the first time ever. This opportunity arose as Teams are able to run a “wildcard” at a maximum of two SuperSprint events. There are particular conditions that must be met and James “Bieber” Golding having run in Super 2 in 2016 met all the requirements.
The crew at work had been particularly busy since the Phillip Island round making changes to the #99 Super 2 car of Mason Barbera to make it compatible to the #33 and #34 cars. The changes required relate particularly to the suspension in the car, which allows more freedom than in Super 2.
Heading up early Friday morning and a quick stop in Yea for a toasted sandwich before the anticipated rain hit at Bonnie Doon around 8.00am. The forecast was for a particularly wet day, but the much more favourable for Saturday and Sunday. These types of conditions as much as they are the same for everybody do create issues.
In normal circumstances the Friday practice sessions allow Teams to try different settings and experiment to some degree in an effort to find what works for them. When it is wet apart from finding what settings are best suited for the wet at that particular track, not much more is relevant and as the forecast was for dry racing not too much could be achieved on Friday except to give our Endurance drivers Richard “Meerkat” Muscat and Bieber time in the cars. Of course this was of particular benefit to Bieber as he was racing over the weekend and regardless of conditions some time behind the wheel would help ease him into the weekend.
Both guys did a very good job and as much as times were not too relevant Meerkat did a very good job in his first outing in the #34 car to finish 3rd in the session.
Throughout the main game practice both Garth and Moff did limited laps, but Bieber circulated most of the 2x45 minute sessions on the wet track. In the dying minutes of P2 the track had dried sufficiently enough that some teams chose to put slicks on and they managed to get a lap or two in. We chose not to as two or three laps on slicks with the car set up for the wet is pointless in regards to learning anything.
Friday night and with the weather looking much more favourable for Saturday the wet weather data gained was put in the “bottom drawer” for future reference and the plan was to use the Saturday morning 45 minute practice session prior to qualifying to find the best speed possible. Often in these situations if the engineering group have different ideas they may send out the cars in different directions in regards to set up and see what works. This is quite helpful but it also requires the drivers to have a similar driving style and like the same characteristics in the race car. At the completion of practice Tander was 8th, Moff 20th and Bieber 22nd. The worrying point was the speed of the Ford’s of McLaughlin and Mostert. The gap to Tander was 6/10ths. and at last year’s Winton round this gap covered the first 20 cars!
Qualifying and it was McLaughlin and Mostert that continued their earlier domination in practice followed by the two Red Bull cars (Van Gisbergen and Whincup). Tander was 13th and Moff 25th having struggled with a car that wanted to continually lock the front wheels when braking. Bieber did a tremendous job to qualify 18th and be the fastest of the 3 wildcards entered and to be 9/10ths off McLaughlin on pole was an excellent effort.
Race 9 of the Supercar Championship was a traditional Saturday Sprint Round race of 120kms (40 laps) with a minimum of one compulsory tyre stop. The Winton surface is quite the opposite of Barbagallo (WA) where we raced last. The Barbagello surface is particularly rough and aggressive which wears away at the surface of the tyre, whereas Winton is much smoother and gentler on the tyre. With this in mind the thought was that maybe only the rear tyres may need changing at the stop. The thought behind this is if there is not a lot of wear it is beneficial to keep the front tyres on that are warm and providing good grip and change the rear drive tyres that have a little more wear as a result of the acceleration out of the corners. It is really the driver feedback that you count on when making these decisions.
Off the line and McLaughlin got the jump and led. By lap 2 Moff had yet again shown his ability to race and had picked up 5 positions after some first lap “hip and shouldering” with Courtney around corners 7,8 and 9. Garth was 12th and unfortunately Bieber was sent off the track as he raced some seasoned campaigners and went to the rear of the field. With tyre wear minimal the option to stop early is one many teams chose to take with the ability to then race to the finish. Teams began stopping on lap 4 and we pitted Moff on lap 8 and Garth lap 11. Swenno (Dave Swenson) who was engineering Bieber (#31) chose to leave him out and Bieb’s did a very, very good job in putting a consistent stint of laps together that when he eventually pitted on lap 29, he had moved up 10 places to 19th. At the same stage both Garth and Moff had made progress and #34 was 7th and #33 14th. McLaughlin looked comfortable in the lead from Whincup and Coulthard. I n the closing stages Tander was sandwiched between the 888 cars of Lowndes and Van Gisbergen and did a very commendable job in maintaining 7th position. Moff also was impressive after starting 25th he raced home to 13th. Bieber led the way for the wildcard drivers and to finish 17th and inside the Top 20 in his very first Supercar outing was an outstanding performance.
Saturday night and after a positive day Barry again was let down by the Mighty (maybe not quite so mighty) Tigers as they lost yet again in the final minute, gee I find this funny!
Unfortunately Sunday didn’t start too well as Moff was penalised 5 seconds for the first lap contact with Courtney which cost him 6 positions and he was relegated to 19th for the Saturday race. I know that it is easy to be passionate and loyal to your own drivers, but the incident occurred on lap 1 when Moff was on the inside turning into turn 8 (around the gum tree) with Courtney hanging on around his outside and as they exited the turn and Moff stayed in tight the rear of his car stepped out clipping Courtney who was trying to hang on until the next corner when he would be on the inside. There was a gaggle of cars as this was the opening lap and to me it was really just a racing incident, but the judges have spoken.
Qualifying for Race 10 and yet again McLaughlin led the way and was 3.5/10ths clear of second placed Whincup. Again, a huge margin and in the corresponding qualifying in 2016 this margin separated the top 11 cars.
Garth made some ground in regards to position, but was still 5.5/10ths back and qualified 10th with Moff and Bieb’s in 20th and 23rd respectively. As mentioned in previous reports we enter the Sunday (200km) races with confidence as we have developed a car that seems to be able to maintain speed as the races progress and our pit stop work and engineering group have been exceptional all season. The 200km race requires each car to put in 120 litres of fuel in the race over two pit stops and change tyres. Again varying strategies played out. In normal circumstances when the tyres degrade the basic strategy is to divide the race into 3 equal stints, but when the tyre degradation is low it opens up the option of either stopping very early on or staying out for a longer than normal stint.
Race 10 and it was Whincup who just edged in front of McLaughlin to the first corner and VanGisbergen prowled ominously behind McLaughlin and by the completion of the opening lap it was the Red Bull 888 cars 1 and 2. Garth started alongside Slade (BJR) and beat him to turn 1 and was 9th, Moff and Bieber were 18th and 23rd. The pit stops started immediately as teams chose to separate their two cars in regards to strategy, hence lessening the risk of having to queue under a Safety Car.
The engineers always have many different strategies and they often change according to what happens around you. An example of this is what Swenno chose to do with Bieber. The pre race plan was to run the first stint long, but by lap 7 Bieb’s was being held up as he caught up to a group in front and as much as he had more speed was unable to pass. Swenno saw this and immediately called the #31 in for the first stop and they fuelled the car for a time that allowed Bieb’s to rejoin in clear space. It was now up to him to put together some very consistent laps so as when those that were racing in front of him pitted that he would have picked up enough time to pass them.
Garth stopped on lap 9 and Moff lap 16 for their first stops. The total time stationery to put the 120 litres of fuel in is approx. 30 seconds. Depending on track position and where you are going to rejoin the race following your stop, is how long the engineers choose to stop the car at the first stop. For example if you are racing closely behind somebody and they are holding you up and they pit, the engineer will instruct the driver to put in a real concerted effort for a lap or two and then pit them, at this stop they will calculate what the maximum fuel they can put in and still rejoin in front of the car that was previously in front. This happened on lap 44 when Moff pitted for the second time and was able to just come out in front of Courtney who had previously led him.
Both Bieb’s and Garth stopped for the final time on lap 34 and had a 33 lap run to home, their longest single stint for the weekend. Garth continued inside the Top 10 and after a Safety Car with 13 laps remaining as a result of Caruso (Nissan) crashing at the final turn he was hot on the heels of McLaughlin on the restart, but Scotty did no favours to his old team and held off the challenge. Up front Van Gisbergen pressured his teammate and passed Whincup for the lead and they were followed by Coulthard in 3rd Waters (Prodrive), McLaughlin and Tander in 6th. Both Moff and Bieb’s have had better days with Moff in 17th and Golding (Bieb’s) unfortunately been sent off the track by Scott Pye at the second last turn following the SC restart while vying for a Top 20 finish.
In summary some positives from the weekend including our team work, team morale, two Top 10 finishes, qualifying improvement on the Sunday and a very good first up performance by James Golding. I want to make particular mention of the crew that Stiffy (Stefan Millard) put together to run the wildcard. Stiffy gathered a group of guys including the oldest wheel changer ever in pit lane (Shags Higgins) who would normally have been cruising around his prodigious lucerne crop on his Massey Ferguson, but instead was hunched over doing a tremendous job as part of the #31 crew.
MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT: Seeing baby Max (Moffat) on Sunday
MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT: Noting he looks like his Dad and not his Mum