Round 3 of the Championship, which was held on the streets of Townsville, far North Queensland has always been a favourite of mine with great success there in recent years, big crowds and an overall great atmosphere.
As mentioned Townsville has been a fairly happy hunting ground for me in the past and because of the brake failure in Perth that resulted in a DNF, dropping me from 6th in the Championship to 12th, I needed a good round to get me back in the points. On a personal note Townsville is also the round that allows me to escape the Perth winter, and suck up some sunshine and get a tan, although that was not to be this weekend with colder than normal weather and rain.
So this is how the weekend unfolded.
After a long and badly delayed flight yesterday, I was a bit shocked to wake up to very dark and cloudy skies and a weather forecast of a wet weekend. We got to the track by about 9.30 to unload the Transporter, set up my pit bay and get everything ready for racing practice tomorrow. I spent the afternoon doing my customary track walk and final review of last years’ data and vision.
On the track walk it was hard to imagine that only a few months prior, parts of the track were well and truly submerged due to the floods. There are still hundreds of people yet to return to their houses that were inundated with water and mud. We left the track early to get a good night’s rest before the action begins.
Today we have 2x 40 minute practice sessions to get myself and the car dialed back in after a two month break between race weekends, one at 10.00am and one at 1.30pm. These sessions are about tuning the suspension to ride the curbs, the road cambers and the bumps and give me the turn and power down I need to go fast. Unfortunately the rain started to fall with about ten minutes to go, and after a fairly scary moment over the back I decided to pit and wait the session out as there was no benefit to be gained on a wet track. I ended the session in 13th but this session was not about lap times it was about getting the most out of the car, which we obtained a lot of data to help us with.
After a data and debrief session the boys made the necessary changes to the car and it was time for practice 2. Luckily the sun was back out again and the track dry. During a 40 minute session you may pit as many times as you want to allow the mechanics to make the adjustments required. Initially the car had a fair bit of oversteer on the high speed corner entries, so we played with Ride Height and Roll Centre to tame this. Roll Centre is an imaginary axis at which the car pivots around when cornering. After raising the Roll Centre the car got worse so we boxed again and put it back where it was. Once I was happy setting consistent fast laps I boxed for my first set of greens. On my second lap on new tyres I went to the top and purple which denotes the fastest anyone had been so far, I ended that session in 3rd only 2 tenths off the fastest time after making a mistake into Turn 1. We were looking strong.
At 3.50 pm it was time for sponsor rides and although it was raining the whole time, everyone enjoyed the skid fest.
This morning we woke up to rain, we have Qualifying at 9.15am and Race 1 at 1.50pm. The last thing anyone wants is to qualify in the wet. Lucky enough the rain stopped about an hour before we were due out and the track had pretty much dried out except for a few puddles against the kerbs in corners.
We decided to try a different strategy for qualifying. Normally we go out on a good set of used tyres to set a banking lap and get the driver and car up to speed then about 5 minutes before end of session, box for a set of greens and have only two laps to set a time. This time I was going to go out hard on my new set of tyres do two laps and then sit the remainder out. This strategy would either make or break Quali.
As I entered the track I worked my tyres and brakes really hard swerving and braking to get them up to temp for the first flyer. I did a pretty good job but there was not enough heat in the tyres to really put me at the top. I decided to go again on another flier, I put it all on the line, as I crossed the first sector the time went purple, at the second sector we went purple again, and we held that all the way to the last corner when pushing hard I pushed a little too deep and stuffed the last corner costing me about 0.8secs and unfortunately losing my chance at getting my first Pole Position! But as I have explained before you only get two good laps before the best part of the tyre is gone and they lose about 0.3-0.4secs.
I boxed in 5th place but the other guys had not had their green tyre run yet. As the minutes ticked by and the tracked temp rose with the sun the track went faster and I had fallen to second last, I had no option but to give it another go on used tyres. I only had enough time for 1 lap and pushed as hard as I could and went p13, with a faster time on used tyres than new. I was devastated that I threw away a potential Pole with a silly mistake. After reviewing data, without the mistake we would have started on the front row at worst. On the positive side we had a car capable of doing the job.
As I sat on the grid for the start of Race 1, with all the cars in front of me I could not help to think, I have really made my race harder than it needed to be. As the lights went green I got a reasonable start and made the charge down through the kink into turn 2, which is always tough at this track with cars jostling for position. I was sitting about mid track when the cars around me started spearing each other and taking evasive action managed to pick my way through. I was now in 8th with good pace and the safety car was called.
We spent about 4 laps behind the safety car before the lights went green again and it was back to racing. I made up another position with a very late lunge, pulled a gap and was faster than the guys in front, when the yellow flags waived and the safety car was called again!
The restart was a mess with cars swerving everywhere to miss the compression created by the pole sitter. There is a natural phenomenon in motor racing that safety cars breed safety cars, as the cars are all bunched up, especially when there is only a few laps to go. Lucky we all escaped any potential Safety Cars and we raced to the flag and I finished 6th which is a great recovery after starting 13th.
Today we have Quali followed by Race 2, it was supposed to be wet again all day, but it was dry when I got to the track and the amended forecast was for rain at 1.30pm, just when my race was about to start.
For Quali we decided to go back to the tried and true method of starting on used tyres and boxing for the greens towards the end of the session. After a few laps I was 7th which was good enough to bank, I then boxed to count the clock down.
With five minutes to go I was pushed out for my green run. On my first flyer I made a couple of small mistakes so had one more chance, I overshot Turn 5 which put me a little off line into 6 and sprayed out the back of 6 onto the grass, finishing the session in 11th. With hindsight I over drove the car trying to make up for yesterday’s qualifying and was untidy and it cost me time.
It was also a busy day off the track with an autograph session, pit tours and a radio interview with Triple M live from the track.
The weather was threatening as we hit the track for Race 2, and started to fall as we sat on the grid for the start. But it was only wet in the braking zone of Turn 2 through to the exit of Turn 3 and the rest of the track is dry! It is really tricky to read differing grip levels! Over the next few laps, the wet weather would extend out to Turn 6. This made it an interesting first few laps.
The light went green and I got an amazing start and made two positions before the kink at T1! I got another at turn 3 and the safety car was called due to an accident behind me at turn 2. A few laps later and it was back to racing where I set about making up a few more positions. I was in 7th when the yellow flags waved with Safety Car boards again with a car in the wall at T1. Back to racing and I was faster than the guys in front so should be able to make a few more positions. Unfortunately due to time spent behind the safety car, the race was called “time certain” and finished 6 laps early preventing me from gaining many more positions. I finished in 6th again.
I was probably hoping for a little better this weekend, but a pair of 6th’s gives me a fair points haul and puts me back to 6th overall in the championship - so I shouldn’t complain.
Running through the championship points back in the Transporter, if we had not had the DNF at Barbagallo due to the brake failure we would be sitting 3rd in the Championship right now!! But that is all a bit ‘Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda’.
We are getting better with each round and learning from some small mistakes this round I think we can improve at Queensland Raceway in a few weeks’ time.