Adelaide is now done and dusted we had our best overall result yet and below is how it unfolded.
Wednesday 27th February
I arrived in Adelaide on Wednesday morning for the usual day of set up, scrutineering, track walk, team meetings and review data and vision from previous years. Now for the un-initiated in Supercars or Motorsport, I will use these race reports to take you behind the scenes of Supercar racing as understanding some of the intricacies of the sport will make the race reports more interesting.
Although I am still racing for image Racing this year, the support from Erebus Motorsport this year has stepped up to another level. Combine that with the fact that Dunlop Super 2 Supercars and main game Supercars are now identical except for main game will use a soft tyre at some tracks where we are restricted to hard tyres at most events (2 events will be soft tyre).
Just to cover the track walk and why we do it, every driver walks every track before practice to make their driver notes as things change from year to year, track surfaces and grip levels change, bumps in braking zones, curbs, even track signage or other landmarks that drivers may use as a pointer as to where to brake for a corner may move. Can you imagine if last year’s track notes tell you to brake at the Fosters sign and this year they moved it 20 metres closer to the turn, it would get ugly very quickly. Once the track notes are made the engineer and driver use them as a guide during the meeting combined with the car data to quantify if the driver is actually braking and accelerating where he should be or whether he can gain time by braking later and accelerating earlier. Everything done it was time to have dinner and get an early night.
Thursday 28th February
Today I get to drive the car in anger for the first time at a race weekend this year. The format for Adelaide is two practice sessions on Thursday, qualifying and Race 1 on Friday, Race 2 on Saturday and Race 3 on Sunday.
For Practice 1, we elected to put on a very well used tyres as being a street circuit the track was dusty and dirty, and the first session is really all about getting you eye back in and finding out how well balanced the car feels so there is no point wasting a new set of tyres. With that said numerous teams actually bolted on a new set which are obviously faster so we finished well down the order in P12 about 1.5 seconds off the pace. The car had a fair bit of understeer during the session, so we made some adjustments before practice 2 to find more balance.
You will hear the word “balance” used a lot in Motorsport as that’s what every team and driver is chasing, the better the balance, the faster the car. A car that is well balanced will brake in a nice straight line, transferring weight to the front wheels to aid in turn in without trying to swap ends, it will then rotate when steering input is made, and will then squat down and transfer the weight to the rear wheels as you accelerate off the turn giving you great drive.
A racecar that wants to go straight when you turn the steering wheel has understeer, a car that slides in the rear when the throttle is applied has oversteer. Too much understeer or oversteer will be slow, as you can’t direct it and transition the weight perfectly through the different zones of a corner . With some set up changes made it was time for Practice 2. We started the session on the same old tyres we used for practice 1 and the car felt instantly better. Half way through the session we elected to put on a green set (new) tyres to see how the balance is on new tyres as this is what we will qualify on. On the first flyer we were in the top 3 in times, however the end result was not that good p15 as we went early on the new tyres and the track got faster and faster so those that left it later to put on greens were rewarded with better times. We used this to make sure the car was good for Qualifying rather than set a good lap time.
Just talking tyres for a second, depending on the track surface and the track temp a new set of tyres will only produce their fastest times for between 1-3 laps, after that they drop between 2 tenths to half a second a lap. After that they level out a bit and slowly lose time over the next 20-30 laps. So if you have not set a good time in qualifying with two flying laps you may as well pull in and save the tyres because you will not go any faster as the tyres have lost their best bit.
After each session we viewed the data, debriefed with the engineer as to what changes we need to make to go faster.
At 7.00pm I was a guest speaker along with Steven Johnson at a corporate function held in the city, where I was interviewed on stage and did a question session with the audience and shamelessly dropped some great sponsor plugs. It is always good fun being able to share my stories and experiences with guests, and love meeting new fans!
Friday 1st February
Qualifying was scheduled for a 12.30 start, with the ambient temperature being 40 degrees and inside cabin temp being about 20 degrees hotter than ambient it was going to be a tough session. Regarding tyres, each team is allocated 3 new sets of tyres to use through practice, qualifying and three races, so tyre conservation is always part of the strategy, otherwise by race three you have nothing good to race on.
We rolled out on our best used tyres to set a banking lap just in case a red flag is pulled ending the session. Our strategy was to do two flying laps on our two remaining sets of race tyres and sit out the rest of qualifying. With the first set, the car felt great and I had lit up two green boxes on my second flyer only to brake a little too deep in turn 14 locking the rears costing me about three tenths and that would have put me in the Top 5.
I then boxed and sat in the pits for a few minutes counting the clock down before my last run. With new tyres on I set about ragging the hell out of the car to put me further up the grid. Unfortunately as the track temp was still rising not many went any faster so my qualifying lap was the one set on the first set of tyres. As the chequered flag waved I had Qualified 9th for Race 1. Although not a bad result if I had not made the mistake in turn 14 I would have finished 5th fastest.
Race 1 was scheduled to start at 5.40pm and it was still close to 40 degrees so 19 laps in this heat was going to be gruelling. As a driver we have a few driver aids to help us deal with the heat stress from the high in-cabin temperature. We have a cool shirt that pumps coolant through an ice box and then through capillaries in the fireproof undershirt we wear. We also have a helmet fan that forces cooled filtered air through a tube connected to the top of our helmets onto the top of our heads and via a manifold on the helmet for us to breathe.
The problem for me was that on the roll around lap before the start of the race my helmet fan decided it was way too hot to work so it gave up.
As the lights went green, I did not get a very good start, I simply did not hook the car up properly and lost two positions before the first corner. It was then “elbows out” to get those positions back which I did by going around the outside of cars on the first lap. We had two safety car periods during the race due to accidents, but in the heat this only makes the inside of the car hotter as you get heat soak from the engine and brakes but very little air flow to remove it.
After the second safety car period the gap I had made had disappeared and I had to fight for the rest of the race to rebuild the gap behind me. My brake pedal had got so hot that it had burnt and started to blister the bottom of my foot through my race boots. The final few laps were quite painful as you can imagine applying 100kg pressure on a burn each time I hit the brake pedal. By the time the chequered flag waved I was 7th across the line, a great way to open the account for the year!
Saturday 2nd February
Our race start today was not until 3.30pm so there was plenty of time between corporate box visits, driver signing sessions and pit tours to review the data and race set up from race 1. To alleviate some understeer problems I had in race 1 we decided to change the rear roll centre, and put on our other set of new tyres.
Race 2 Starting P7, this time I absolutely nailed the start, as I went to pass the car in front down the middle, he blocked me, so I flicked it left and passed him on the inside and made it 3 wide into the turn 1-2 chicane. The set up changes we had made had still not fixed the understeer problem which made me very vulnerable to dive bombs at turn 9 as I could not hold mid corner speed through turn 8. The cars behind me were putting immense pressure on, so I backed them up a little into each other working their rear tyres harder than they wanted also whilst they were fighting each other it gave me a bit of a break. At the end of 19 laps I crossed the line in 6th, with a nice straight car – more points for the championship.
Sunday 3rd February
Once again only one race today with Race 3 starting at 2.00pm, after reviewing the data, my engineers decided to change front springs and rear anti roll bar to fix the understeering problem I had had during the last two races. This has been a problem we battled all weekend, and to move forward we needed this fixed. But at least the weather today was a bit cooler – a nice change, but it became very humid!
I again got a good start, but by the end of the first lap I knew we had gone a little too far with the changes and my understeering car was now oversteering quite badly. As a drivers we can trim understeer or oversteer by stiffening or softening the front and rear anti roll bars. As a general rule if you soften the bar you give more grip, if you stiffen the bar you lose grip. By about quarter race distance I was maxed out on bar adjustment and still oversteering to the point of having a couple of scary moments through the high speed turn 8 that ended my race last year. I tried everything I knew to keep my position but unfortunately lost three positions during the race to finish 9th.
All in all we had a great start to the Championship with me taking 6th overall for the round and Championship.
I would like to once again take this opportunity to thank all my sponsors, Penrite Oil, Rare Spares Fabcon, Altrex, Carplan, Little Tree’s, Industrial Chemical Supplies, Bremtec Brakes, CoolDrive Ultima Shock Absorbers, Supercharge Batteries, Wesfil, Tridon, PK Tools, Nova and DB Connect.
Until next time.