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Race Report: WD-40 Phillip Island 500


Race Report: WD-40 Phillip Island 500

We chat with Garth and James after the Phillip Island 500. Make sure you watch until the very end!

Garry's Race Report

It is certainly a busy time of year with races in Tasmania, Phillip Island, Western Australia and Winton (Benalla, Vic) over a 6-week period and to be honest it is easier for us Victorian teams rather than those located in Queensland. But, it is great to have racing consistently every second weekend for the fans. Thankfully, the Tasmanian round was relatively “damage free” for the teams and major rebuilds that had to take place after last year’s round were avoided.
Joey (Joe Sullivan – Transporter Driver) has been chaffing at the bit to do some real driving as apart from going to Adelaide for round 1 he has driven a total of less than 500 kilometres with trips to the AGP and Tassie rounds. Unfortunately, as Phillip Island is less than 100 kilometres from our workshop his desire to spend some more time behind the wheel of the mighty Volvo Globetrotter will have to wait another week, before he heads across the Nullarbor to WA.
The week between arriving back from Tasmania and having to head down to PI is spent stripping the cars back and servicing all the components that make up a Supercar. The reliability of the cars today compared to 10 years ago, let alone 20 plus years is a lot to do with the strict maintenance schedules that all teams adhere to. I certainly remember the days when you may have started with a field of 30 cars, but 10 laps in to a race and 10 would have retired.
Heading to Phillip Island there were some concerns as to the durability of the front splitters (front bumper bars and undertray) on the new ZB. Over the 10 plus years of making composite parts our composite department led by Scott Compson has developed a layup that we found to provide a balance between flexibility and rigidity. To explain this further flexibility is required in a splitter so as when the race car contacts tyre bundles, kerbs and other cars there is enough flexibility for the splitter to absorb this contact without breaking. We often see “super slo-mo” shots in a broadcast showing the front of the car distorting as a car contacts tyre bundles etc. which is the flexibility required to stop the splitter from shattering. But, rigidity is also necessary to stop the splitter oscillating as the downforce is extreme on this part of the car with more than 200kg of downforce at 200 kmh. on the front splitter. The ZB was homologated with a longer front beak on the splitter than its predecessors and the oscillating motion has been enhanced because of this. The simple fix is to make a totally rigid splitter, but of course the downside is any reasonable contact would cause the splitter to shatter and break. Prior to Phillip Island we offered all teams that ran our splitter to return them to our workshop for some additional upgrades that we had developed over the first three rounds of racing. Those that chose to return them did not have any failures over the weekend which was a positive.
The Phillip Island round was 2x250km races each with individual qualifying. Over recent years the Phillip Island circuit has created some issues with tyre degradation and failures. The Phillip Island Grand Prix circuits is one of the fastest, free flowing circuits that we race at and in particular turn 1 where the cars approach at 290kmh and exit more than 200kmh before he driver is hard on the brakes for turn 2 creates enormous downloads on the tyres. As Supercars have developed year on year and Engineers search for gains, the camber (wheel angles) are an area that attracts much attention. This search for speed often has a downside as the areas/parts of the cars are pushed beyond their limits and the tyres are one of these areas. This year Dunlop returned to the tyre used in 2016 that had characteristics more suited to coping with the more extreme set ups and well done to Dunlop as this weekend did not see a tyre fail.
The Phillip Island circuit has an amazing history which dates to the 1920’s and is a place where real racers love to race. An interesting fact are the corner names at Phillip Island and how the names have stuck over many, many years including Honda Hairpin (sponsored by Honda for many years) and MG for example. I pride myself on my knowledge of such things and I was sure MG never sponsored turn 10, which is sharp right hander that is approached on a downhill run from Lukey Heights. Well, I have now discovered courtesy of Gypsy (Jeff Marshall – GRM Engine guru) that “MG Corner” is named MG Corner because back in the early years many of the MG’s would lose oil pressure on the downhill approach to this corner as the oil surged in the sump and the engines would expire and because so many MG’s were parked on the infield at this corner they named it MG. I hope it’s true Gypsy, because it sounds like a great story!
Back to racing. Following Friday practice which was 2x40 minute practice sessions we were 15th (Garth) and 24th  (James) with Whincup (888) the quickest followed by the two DJR Penske cars. Both GT and Bieb’s were reporting the same issues with the cars and from this the Krusty (Richard Hollway) and Lewis (Manuel Sanchez) set about implementing some overnight changes to find a better direction with the car. These changes did help improve the car as GT found himself 5/10ths behind Whincup when the previous day the gap was 9/10ths. The problem was Scotty McLaughlin was an incredible 5/10ths quicker than the field, one of the most dominant pole laps we have seen when normally this time differential would cover the top 10 to 15 cars. GT was 14th and Bieber was 3/10ths back in 19th.
The 250-kilometre race required a fuel drop during the race of 140 litres over two compulsory pit stops. With the knowledge that the tyre life around Phillip Island does not extend very long stints the strategy of teams was rather restricted. At a circuit where you have the confidence that the car can run an extended stint and your qualifying performance is not as good as what you feel your race speed is, then the option opens up to stop very early in a stint and place your driver out on the track without traffic around them where they can circulate unimpeded lap after lap. The result of this is you can often pick up many positions from those that were racing in front of you when they eventually pit. But, at Phillip Island this is hard to achieve as the risk of a tyre failure with an extended stint is likely.
GT started well as he normally does picking up two positions on the opening lap, while Bieber was 20th. Off the front row it was Whincup who got the jump on McLaughlin. The first car to stop was Scott Pye (WAU) on lap 7 when he was one position behind GT. GT stopped on lap 14 when most of the field began pitting. As the race settled after the first stops GT was 14th having been undercut by Pye and Slade (BJR) and Bieber having contacted DeSilvestro (Nissan) at the hairpin was at the rear. Whincup and McLaughlin pitted together on lap 17 and still led. Pye stopped on lap 30 for the second time leaving a 27-lap stint to home, with leaders pitting one lap later and GT stopped on lap 33. Bieber was doing it hard with steering damage resulting from his earlier misdemeanour. Scotty Mac shadowed Whincup and on lap 41 he pounced as they raced in to turn 2 making a well-judged move squeezing through the smallest of gaps on the inside, GT was in a train of cars where the positions maintained the status quo over the final 20 laps finishing 12th. The early stop of Pye did eventually pay dividends although he was certainly coming back to the pack in the closing laps finishing two positions in front of GT. Behind McLaughlin and Whincup on the podium was the Nissan of Rick Kelly who flew under the radar all race but showed excellent speed to finish 3rd. The #34 had a day to forget in 24th.
The Saturday result saw some changes post-race. Whincup had been sighted for disengaging the pit lane speed limiter on his car prior to crossing the control line and was hit with a time penalty equivalent to a drive thru penalty which relegated him to 14th and his teammate Van Gisbergen to 3rd. To explain this simply the cars have a limiter that is engaged when crossing the line to enter pit lane and disengaged once the control line on the exit is crossed. From what I can tell Jamie was having a battle both on the track but also during the pit stop with Scotty and he just managed to exit his pit bay in front of the DJR car and as he passed the cone that marked the point of where cars must be in the fast lane he disengaged his speed limiter and immediately realised the cone wasn’t the control line and re-engaged it for the remaining 5-10 metres to the control line. A simple mistake, but costly.
The weather this weekend was the best I can remember in recent memory and the presentation of the Phillip Island circuit is a real credit to those responsible for its upkeep. As I only live an hour or so from the circuit and are lucky enough to have a chauffer (Barry) the trip down and back each day is quite enjoyable as I sit back and admire what a wonderful country we all live in. The thought did cross my mind as to whether I would be better of fishing than racing cars!
But, I love Motor Racing and Sunday brought new hope. The 20-minute qualifying was time for three green tyre runs. For the weekend of racing we had an allocation of 6 sets of tyres for qualifying and racing. Basically, each set is used for one flying lap in qualifying and then put aside for the race. We were finding that on the out lap (first lap out of pit lane) that we were having trouble getting the tyres up to temp so as they had the right grip entering the high speed turn 1 and 2. The drivers are careful not to overheat the tyres on the out lap as this can lead to the tyre losing grip during the later stages of the reasonably long Phillip Island lap. Both GT and Bieb’s indicated they felt the car was better than the previous day and sectors within their laps shoed improvement and in the GT’s final run he was in the top 5 through sectors 1 and 2 and as he approached turn 10 he had some rear brake locking and what appeared a top 5 qualifying result disappeared very quickly. Supercars is incredibly competitive and small errors cost many, many places. In years gone it wasn’t uncommon for the gap between first and second to be the same as what is now first to 20th. GT qualified 15th and Bieb’s again moved forward in 18th. Again, the Ford of Scotty Mac dominated the field 4/10ths clear of Dave Reynolds (Erebus) who joined him on the front row.
Prior to the Supercar race I took a little time to take a walk around much of the circuit. Obviously most of our time at a race meeting is in the pit and paddock area, yet I really enjoy wandering around to see and talk to the crowd and observe racing from different vantage points. Again, I was tremendously impressed by this facility and as much as I know that Phillip Island is a reasonable distance from Melbourne and can be timely to leave following the racing I would urge those who want to see Motor Racing up close to make the effort to watch an event at PI.
For the fourth straight day the sun was shining and there was little if any breeze. I was very disappointed that Dick (Dick Johnson) wasn’t here to experience the beautiful weather that Victoria has to offer, because we normally here him bellowing “Geez it’s colder than a mother in laws kiss down here”, but Dick this year you could have worn your budgie smugglers!
Off the front row it was McLaughlin who led from the start. Both of our boys started well with Garth in 12th and James 17t at the end of lap 1. Lap 6 and trouble struck Courtney (WAU) with a gearbox issue that left him stranded on the entry in to pit lane. A Safety Car period looked ominous, but a lap passed by and no call was made yet some teams took the opportunity to pit one of their cars in case the call came. Sure enough, on lap 8 the call came, and pit lane was all go with the remainder of the field pitting and as we had not pitted either of our cars the #34 of Bieber had to queue behind #33. The effect of this when some had pitted the previous lap led to Bieber going from P16 to P24. GT maintained his position in 11th. At the front Rick Kelly seemed to be the beneficiary of the stop and led from Reynolds, Caruso and McLaughlin. As the race unfolded it became evident that McLaughlin had taken on more of the required fuel at the first stop and would have a much shorter second stop than those in front. GT also had a few seconds fuel advantage on those he was racing. Bieber drove a very consistent middle stint and as he pitted for the second time on lap 32 he had worked his way in to the top 20.
With 20 laps to go McLaughlin led from Reynolds and Kelly and in the closing laps Kelly drove extremely well to hold off the fast finishing Coulthard (DJR). GT timed his run well to finish 10th and catching Whincup (9th) and Bieber finished 19th but should very proud with how he raced.
As I sit here at work the boys are all hard at work out the back in the workshop preparing the cars for Perth.  Joey will head off on Saturday and I know he cannot wait to start the 3,500km journey and I can’t wait for Barbagallo!
MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT    -         Passing a Kelly in a Nissan. Unfortunately, it was Todd on the freeway and not his quicker brother on the track!
MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT -  The thought of Dick in budgie smugglers ):
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NEXT EVENT:  Perth SuperSprint, 4 -6 May

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