Round 4 of the Super 2 Championship was held at Queensland Raceway, or the paper clip as it’s affectionately called. It’s a track that I have practiced at a few times but never actually raced at in a Supercar, so it was new for me and the team as the Dunlop Super2 Series has not raced at QR since moving to the car of the future. The team having never raced there means we have no previous set up data for the car, so we will have to work it out as we go.
Like all Thursday’s of a race weekend, it all about setting up for the weekend; unload the Transporter, set up our pit bay, get the gear scrutinised and the customary track walk which is very important for me as I have not been here for two years. It’s amazing how quickly the day passes before you know it, it was dinner with the team and back to the motel for an early night.
The race format for this round is 2x 40 minute practice sessions today, with a 15 minute qualifying session and 20 lap race each day on Saturday and Sunday.
I climbed into the car for P1 at 10.00am and after a few laps worked out the setup was not right and I was struggling for braking performance and feel, so I boxed and the team made a few adjustments and release my brakes. The car was definitely better, the brake pedal more firm, but the brake retardation and turn in compliance was not there - the car just felt vague. I pitted a number of times and the guys changed ride heights, roll centres, but nothing seemed to give me what I needed to have the confidence to push hard and as a result I finished the session right down the order.
Back in the Transporter we debriefed the session, analysed the data and made the necessary adjustments to the rear suspension to hopefully give me the car I needed.
P2 was at 2.00 pm and about 2 laps into the 40 minute session I realised the car was still not right; the understeer was a little better, but the car was still not riding the bumps properly and still not giving me the confidence to push under brakes, therefore I finished 12.
The crew then had an hour to fit the passenger seat, seat belts, and false floor for the sponsor hot laps at 4.00pm. As usual everyone gets out of the car with a smile beaming from ear to ear. I love getting the opportunity to share what we do, with sponsors by giving them a ride or pit tour. At 8.00pm that night I visited the new IPlay venue to race some of their customers on the Daytona Nascar Arcade Game. What a cool venue – loved every bit of it. Great fun, but I have to admit I got beaten a couple of times, I think I will stick to the real thing…
Overnight my fantastic crew replaced the pads and rotors as we felt this would fix my braking issues, changed the ride height, wheel alignment and a number of other things to get this car back in the setup window.
Quali wasn’t until 1.00pm so we had a fairly lazy morning. We hosted some pit tours mid-morning and was great to see that everyone enjoyed the experience and learned more about what goes on behind the scenes.
At 12.45pm I was strapped in for Quali, I was feeling good about the changes we made and hoping to put it somewhere near the top 5. By my second flyer it was evident that the car although better was still a little off, and although I had all new brakes I was still struggling to pull the car up and the initial turn in was not sharp. On my green tyre run the best I could manage was 12th, but to give you an idea of how close it was, the entire grid was only split by 8 tenths of a second. Last time the series was there the whole field was covered by 2.5 seconds, and I was back in 12th only 4 tenths off the pace.
As you can imagine, it doesn’t take much to lose 4 tenths, and if you are lacking confidence in your braking and initial turn, that is where all the time lies. These set up problems always come from lack of previous set up data as there are so many combinations for set up, it takes a while to find the set up window.
We made a couple of changes for the race, but I knew it was going to be tough from the start, mainly because of where I was staring from on a track like this.
As the lights went green in Race 1, I launched like normal but then the lights flashed amber and caused a bit of chaos as cars dodged other cars off the start. It was declared an aborted start so we rolled around, re-gridded again for another start. This time I hooked it up pretty well and made up 3 positions by turn 1, but running two wide through turn 1 is always risky and I got hung out to dry and dropped back to second last. The car was still not great, the understeer was still there, by lap 3 I had maxed out my scope on the anti-roll bars to full soft to counteract this, so all I could do was to maximise what I had and do the best I could. By the time the chequered flag fell I had made my way back to 12th, which was pretty disappointing, but a good comeback.
Overnight we decided to make a wholesale change, throw the kitchen sink at it and removed the front uprights and fitted different springs and changed the front ride height to see if that would make the car turn in.
Qualifying today was a little earlier at 10.50am and I was excited but nervous to see if we had a car I could put up the pointy end.
On my first flyer on old tyres, I could feel my car was back! The initial turn and braking was fixed by the added transfer of weight the new springs gave. On my second lap heading into turn 1 at about 250kph I locked the inside front wheel sending me flying off the end of the main straight heading straight at the tyre barrier. When this happens everything sort of goes into slow motion, I was thinking about how much damage I was going to do to the front, and my day would be over. Miraculously, the car came to a stop just resting against the tyre barrier. Normally when you stop in a gravel trap you go no further as when you try to move the car digs in and you’re trapped. If this happens and they deploy the red flag, your qualifying is over and you start rear of field as punishment. Anyway I ever so gently selected reverse and gently as I could, slipped the clutch and the car moved backwards without bogging. When clear of the barrier I gassed it up, flicked it around and drove out of the trap. The team asked if there was any damage, I replied no, so they said push on for one more lap and then box which I did. After this, I was now second last on the time sheets – as the track got faster while I was in the sand trap.
With 8 mins left on the clock, my crew changed my tyres to a new set and sent me out for the first of my flyers. I warmed the tyres on the out lap and then set off on my first flyer, the splits were looking good as I headed into turn 3 but the red flag came out as there was a car stuck in the last turn in a dangerous position.
On a red flag all laps are aborted and all cars head slowly back to the pit bay. I thought my qualifying was over and id start second last. We only had 2 minutes left on the clock and I still had not posted a time.
When the green flags went out my engineer told me I only had enough time for an out lap to warm the brakes and tyres and 1 flyer so I had to make it a good one. As I crossed sector 1 my dash showed a good split, then sector 2 I was still up. I had to make sure there were no mistakes and consolidate the lap time. I crossed the line in 5th, and it just saved my day. Another competitor behind me went slightly faster and put me back to 6th fastest but I was happy with that as I knew we had a good race car!!
Going into Race 2 I was very confident as we had a great car for the race.
As the lights turned green, I hooked the car up with very little wheel spin and launched it making up two positions before Turn 1 into 4th!
I had Jack Perkins crawling all over me so I pushed really hard to put some distance between us. By the time I had a reasonable gap I had used my tyres heavily and switched to tyre conservation mode. By squaring off corners, not inducing wheel spin and not leaning on the tyres heavily it would help give me something to fight with at the end of the race.
With still 10 laps to go I saw O’Keeffe had got past Perkins and was gaining on me. It is really hard to slow a little when you know someone is gaining on you, as it challenges all your senses of what to do. With 3 laps to go he was on my bumper, but he had used his tyres getting to me and now mine were rested. We had to make no mistakes and stay mentally strong and we kept him behind until the chequered flag fell. I crossed the line in 4th a PB for me in this category.
All in all we finished with a strong result after a rough start whilst finding a set up that works for a track we had no previous set up data on.
I cannot thank my team enough for their persistence and efforts to give me a car capable of running at the pointy end of a very strong field. We currently sit 7th in the Championship only 10 points off 6th, rest assured I will push hard for the rest of the season to finish in the top 5.
We now head into a two month break before we go to the holy grail of Australian motorsport, the mountain - Bathurst.