Round 6 of the Championship, the Penrite Oil Sandown 500 has been run and won, but for me it was a tough weekend in the office. They say motor racing is character building, and if you can’t take disappointment don’t go motor racing. Well last weekend proved those statements to be true, especially after ending Bathurst with a blown engine. My strong performance during the year has taken a battering in the last two rounds. Stick with me and I will let you know how it unfolded.
I flew into Melbourne on Tuesday so I could go to the workshop and make my seating position more comfortable than it was after the race seat was changed before Bathurst. With that done I travelled up to Rare Spares HQ to do some filming and then, with John Bowe attended a Rare Spares VIP night at Roxburgh Park which was a great night answering questions and mingling with their VIP guests. Thursday morning we headed to the track for set up, scrutineering, engineering and strategy meetings and track walk.
The weather was cold wet and windy, but it seemed to dry up for our first practice session. We had a couple of things to try so the first few laps were to get my eye back in and make sure the car balance was good, and it was. So we then put down a few quick laps and were sitting in the top six, so the rest of the session was spent doing race simulations (longer runs whilst my team mate concentrated on Qualifying runs. You see with a 2 car team if you try different strategies or set ups you can actually make 4 sessions out of 2, but if you both do the same, then you only get 2 shots at getting it right. Session finished with me in 11th but that didn’t matter as we were not concentrating on lap times.
Practice 2 was scheduled for a 2.00pm start, the rain had been coming in bursts but once again we jagged a dry track. We tried a few different set ups during the session, the car was feeling pretty good so I gave it a crack towards the end of the session and was a little disappointed to be 9th fastest at the end with a bit of time to find. The data should tell the story of where we can improve.
Today we have a 15 minute qualifying session and a 17 lap race, it was a fairly leisurely start to the day as Quali wasn't until 11.55am, so there was lots of time to talk to fans and sign posters and shirts. It had been wet all morning but the track was dry for our session but the rain was wishing any rubber off the track to the grip levels were very low. The plan was as usual to set a banking lap on older tyres and the pit with a few minutes to go for a green set of tyres and rag a lap. The first couple of hot laps had me well in the top 10 so I boxed for the greens and back out for a crack. My first flying lap was a good one but was taken because of over use of kerbs. My next lap I totally mucked up by pushing too hard. When the chequered flag fell I was 15th. I was shocked, in all the years I have been racing I have never been last on any grid. I had my work cut out for me now.
The race was scheduled for 4.15pm it was cold and wet, being off the back of the grid we had to try something different as we had nothing to lose. Also being at the back in a wet race is diabolical as the spray is blinding. Most teams believed the rain was going to stop and it would be a drying track and started their cars on slicks, we decided to start on wets a get a jump on them early, but to hedge our bets we would start with very low tyre pressures so if the track dried out, our wets would last to the end. We just had to roll the dice. When the lights went green I go a pretty good start and made up a couple of positions, but with very low tyre pressures I was struggling to get heat into the tyres and therefore had no drive out of corners, constantly braking into wheelspin. As the laps went down they gradually got better but the rain started to fall harder. Now our strategy was starting to take hold, as it was becoming too dangerous on slicks so over half the field would have to pit for wets which would put me in about 5th andprobably a lap ahead by the time they had rejoined the race.
Then just before they were about to pit the safety car was called, my advantage just evaporated into thin air. Although I was now in 6th my tyres with low pressures were cooling down and the cars pitting for wets will come out with high pressures and will be on it straight away. When the lights went green again it was a disaster, I had no grip at all and was passed by half the field before my tyres started to come up to temp. At the end of the race I was in 11th. A great strategy had failed due to one safety car. Now we need to regroup for tomorrow.
As qualifying was set for 9.30am, it was an early start at the track to get ready. Overnight we had settled for a different tyre strategy to run the session which I can’t disclose. We hit the track and after a sighting lap put in a reasonable couple of banking laps which put me mid field. I then pitted for another set and went straight back out again. I did a warm up lap, a 90% lap to get the tyres up to temp, the got on it for two timed laps. The car felt good, the tyres felt good, the engine felt good, but when the session finished I was back in 15th again. The whole grid was separated by 0.8sec couldn’t believe it. The lap felt good, the lap felt fast and I had no idea why it hadn’t put me towards the pointy end of the grid. After reviewing the data, I was driving well the only thing we could see is that I was braking deeper and harder than my team mate and possibly over slowing the car in a few turns. All I can do now is bat on and make up as many positions as I could in the race.
In the Race, I once again got a ripper start as the lights went green and made up 3 positions before the first corner. Then going up the back straight was side by side as we went over the top at Dandenong road – that gets the Adrenalin going! By the end of the first lap I was up to 11th and starting to find my groove. Then on Lap 3, heading into Turn 1, I was hit by another competitor and run off the track. By the time I got back on I was last again with a fair gap to the cars in front. Time to put the head down or hopefully a safety car will come out so I can catch back up. It took me a few laps but I caughtand passed the next car. All the while, since the contact, my dash stopped working. You don't realise what you have until it’s gone! Anti-Roll bar position, brake bias, gear selection, shift lights, brake lock lights, lap times, drink bottle and helmet fan. I was on full manual, you don’t realise how much you use all those sensors until they are gone. Any way I put my head down and drove it as fast as I could without any telemetry and was making ground on the next bunch of cars. By the end of the race I had got myself back up to 11th. Not where we expected to be, but in Motorsport you just have to take a tough weekend, put it behind you and move on. Newcastle is up next and hopefully we can end a great year on a high and push hard!
As always I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my sponsors, Penrite Oil, Rare Spares Fabcon, Altrex, Carplan, Industrial Chemical Technologies, DB Connect, Bremtec Brakes, CoolDrive Ultima Shock Absorbers, Supercharge Batteries, Wesfil, Tridon, PK Tools, Nova, Red Emperor Constructions, Day & Night Towing, Pit Stop Karting, Lockyer Bins, IPlay, Cox Legal, 2Thugs customs, The Commercial Hotel Strathalbyn, Pharmacy 777 and Dynamic Industries!