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Away we go again!
This year the Adelaide 500 celebrated its 20th year. In Australia Bathurst stands alone as our most famous event, but the Adelaide 500 has forged its own place as an iconic Supercar event, and this the 20th year was celebrated famously with a Sunday lockout and over 90,000 people in attendance. The atmosphere around the Adelaide Parklands Circuit was incredible and although I have been around a fair while I still can’t help but get excited.
Again, the so called off season provided all at GRM with some challenges. Thankfully, our decision on what to race was decided well before the end of last season and we chose to race the ZB Commodore. This decision did though provide some challenges with regards to our workforce since 888 invested their money to homologate the ZB and to recoup these costs retained the body panel IP and teams had to buy their body panels from them. At GRM we have an exceptional composites department and my concern was what work would they do if we had to buy all our body panels off 888? I expressed this concern to 888 and as time went by we negotiated an arrangement to make the front splitters for the cars.
As often happens with newly homologated cars not everything runs as smoothly as planned. Initially 888 were going to supply us the necessary tooling to produce this splitter prior to Christmas, but due to many reasons we were not provided what was required until late January. This required seven days per week and many, many hours of overtime to produce what was required to make it to Adelaide. I am extremely proud of what my Team have been able to achieve and pleased that we could attract work to keep many employed.
I am always enthusiastic, but this year my enthusiasm was spiked marginally because GRM were introducing a young first year driver, Bieber (James Golding). The last time we introduced a first-year driver was Scott McLaughlin in 2013 and as a Team we certainly enjoyed seeing Scott develop into one of our best drivers and although he is now a competitor I am always happy when he goes well and even happier when we beat him!!
Bieber began at GRM as a 17-year-old apprentice motor mechanic in 2013. On weekends he raced go-karts and then Formula Ford’s and was quite successful with his racing. But, more importantly he had a very good attitude and work ethic and grounded upbringing. I saw potential in him, and certainly look forward to seeing him progress throughout the season.
We certainly enjoy a great mix with Garth entering his 21st year in Supercars and he has taken it upon himself to share his experience with Bieber and has certainly been a very positive influence on Bieber as he enters his first full time Supercar season.
The format for the Adelaide 500 is 2x250km races, each with qualifying and Top 10 shootouts. Prior to the first qualifying session on the Friday afternoon, there are 2x40 minute practice sessions. Throughout these sessions the drivers and engineers work through many set up combinations with the obvious aim of finding the best car set up for qualifying and the race. Often the set up for qualifying is quite different as to what is determined the best for the race. T he engineers can afford to be more aggressive in qualifying as tyre wear over a one or two lap qualy lap really does not matter, but in a race, you cannot afford a car that wears the tyres out quickly. Following practice GT was 11th and Bieb’s 21st with last year’s title holder Whincup, and runner up McLaughlin the two fastest.
The tyre allocation for qualifying and racing was 6 sets of Dunlop soft tyres per car. Friday afternoon saw the first qualifying of the year a 20-minute session. The cars go out on worn tyres from the earlier practice sessions to warm the cars up and to get heat into the brakes. The braking system on a Supercar is not at all efficient when cold and requires a temperature of around 600 degrees for optimal braking efficiency. Following a lap or two of warming up and observing the track conditions the drivers enter pit lane to put the first set of green (new) tyres on for a qualifying run. It’s vital that on the out lap the driver spaces themselves from the cars in front and behind. Following this out lap they then perform one and sometimes two flying laps with the green tyres. The engineers watch the monitors closely and following the first lap they determine as early as possible into the second lap as to whether it is going to be better or worse than the first. If they determine that the lap is not going to be faster than the first they radio the driver to abort and re-enter pit lane for a new set of tyres. As much as it is important to get the very best out of the car in qualifying, it is also important to remember that the tyres used in qualifying are also the ones that will be raced on.
Unfortunately, qualifying didn’t quite go as planned and we were unfortunately on the wrong end of two red flag periods throughout the session. A red flag halts the session until debris on the track is cleaned up. The second red flag period triggered by Whincup crashing came with less than a minute of qualifying left. Both Garth and James were on PB laps and GT looked destined to be inside the Top10 as the red flags came out and the session ended prior to the #33 and #34 cars crossing the start/finish line.
It is disappointing not to have a car in the shootout, but the positive was we felt that our pace was better than the grid positions of GT (17th) and Bieb’s (25th). Van Gisbergen was quickest by a mere 1/1000th of a second from Scotty Mac. The shootout on Saturday again maintained that position on the front row.
Race 1 of the 2018 Virgin Supercar Championship and from 17th and 25th we had our work ahead of us to work further forward. In these situations, the engineer is constantly looking at the timing splits and conversing with the driver to determine whether they are being held up. It is often better to pit early if being held up and put the driver in a position where they are not racing in traffic. With clean racing they can often pick up time that sees them leap frog others that pit later. It is a fine line as the earlier that you pit, the longer you need to run on a set of tyres and if a misjudgement occurs early gains can turn in to late losses.
This season saw the biggest influx of new drivers into the series for many, many years with five first year drivers. All five had excellent resumes from Super 2 Champions, World Endurance GT drivers and International open wheel competitors. By lap 55 (176 kilometres) Bieb’s had raced his way to the front of this new breed. But, his momentum was soon halted as Blanchard (BJR) forced his way up the inside of Bieber at turn 4 with Stanaway (Tickford) and Hazelwood (MSR) pressuring. Bieb’s was forced wide and Stanaway took the advantage with Bieber fighting back as he came up the inside of Stanaway into turn 5 and they locked wheels causing steering damage to the #34 and in turn crashing in to Hazelwood. It was an unfortunate end to Bieber’s day, but he certainly showed he means business.
GT had made steady progress further forward and was 12th at this same stage and maintained this position over the final laps. Van Gisbergen won from pole with Courtney (Walkinshaw) continuing his consistent Adelaide form in second and Scotty Mac (DJR Penske) 3rd.
Of course, the result wasn’t what we were hoping for, but when you start down in the field it is very difficult to achieve much more. The positive was our car speed with Garth setting the 5th fastest time of the race and it is certainly important to not only analyse where you went wrong but find some positives that provide hope and energy for a better performance.
Saturday night, Barry and I spent some time with staff and customers from Volvo Trucks. I know that I have said it previously, but I certainly enjoy the stories of many of these people and this time was no different. From transport owners with 100’s of trucks who often started with one to 3rd generation rural people servicing our communities. I love their stories and I certainly enjoyed one or two cold beers!
Sunday didn’t start so well for me as I managed to twist myself up in the bed sheets and couldn’t unwrap myself when I woke. Thankfully Barry and I share a room and when he returned from a run he rescued me. I think I was dreaming about being an engineer and they love the term over rotation, I must have been rotating! I was determined that this very minor setback wasn’t going to ruin my day.
The day certainly did improve very quickly as our chef, Dom had prepared yummy toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and fresh fruit platter. Dom is without doubt the best chef in pit lane and I must be careful when I return home that I don’t start saying “Dom cooks this” and “Dom does it this way” and so on, otherwise I may have to move in with Dom!
Qualifying for Race2. There are many theories, tactics and realities during qualifying and although most teams think similarly we all can’t do the same thing. One of these “things” is the theory and maybe the reality that the last car on track in qualifying often has the fastest track surface to do a lap on. This is because as each car does a lap a little more rubber is left on the track surface which provides grip. Another fact is a race car is faster when there is cloud cover and the track temp drops a degree or two. During qualifying there was cloud cover and Krusty (Richard Hollway #33 Engineer) was strategizing so as GT was the last car to do a qualifying lap. This tactic is fraught with danger as if like the previous day a red flag period occurs late, time may run out in the session prior to crossing the start/finish line to start the lap or may occur during your final lap, hence the lap doesn’t count.
With less than 1min40sec left in the session GT left the pit bay with fresh rubber but had to hustle around to get back past the start/finish line prior to the clock showing 0.00, he made it by 3 seconds. The entire garage watched the screens closely that show the time splits. Each track is divided into 3 timing sectors and the time for each sector shows immediately the car passes. The time is illuminated green if it is a PB for that sector and as sectors 1 and2 went green and were less than 2/10ths off the quickest time set we all crowded in even closer staring as GT crossed the start finish line and green again. A cheer went up as Garth had come from 18th to 4th on that final lap. Unbelievable pressure, but with 20 years’ experience he certainly knew how to get the job done. Great stuff Garth!
Scotty McLaughlin reversed the tables on Van Gisbergen and was quickest with Whincup (888) 3rd. Following the shootout, it was the two 888 cars led by Van Gisbergen from McLaughlin in 3rd. GT did a solid job but couldn’t repeat his earlier heroics and was 8th.
Bieber had a mixed qualifying and was hampered by a damaged wheel nut that took several minutes to remove, costing him valuable qualifying time and the fact that he triggered the kerb sensor at the first chicane (turn 2) on his qualy lap on two occasions.
There is a kerb sensor that is triggered if a car doesn’t have at least two wheels outside the kerb and if triggered during qualifying the lap doesn’t count. As a result, #34 qualified in 23rd, but we were certainly confident that Bieber had better speed than what qualifying showed.
The race build up for the Sunday Adelaide race is always electrifying and with 90,000 plus people in attendance and officials having to close the gates there certainly was a buzz in the air. This buzz became a roar as the traditional fighter jet fly over nearly sent me to the deck as it flew past. The National Anthem was sung with gusto and we were all set to go.
From the start Bieber certainly showed the speed we knew he had and was immediately making his way forward. GT was well away and settled in 7th. There are many strategies in these races and depending upon where you are placed influences the decisions the engineers make when to pit. The race requires each car to stop at least twice and during these stops take on a minimum 140 litres of fuel. Fuel usage at Adelaide is approx. 2.7 litres per lap and with a 109-litre capacity a car can do 40-41 laps on a full tank. The Adelaide Parklands Circuit is 3.22 k’s in length and the race is 78 laps. This allows a car to stop from as early as lap 1 and again around laps 38-40 and race to the finish. Obviously, this strategy results in the first set of tyres doing very little work and the driver needs to manage their tyres smartly. Both Courtney (Walkinshaw) and Davison (23 Red) did just this and stopped on lap1. The reason they did this was they had both qualified back in the pack after both qualifying in the 10 the previous day. By stopping early, they could race at the back of the pack in clear air and hopefully produce a driving stint of laps quicker than those they would have been racing around and the other cars stopped they would pass them. This worked quite well and by the time the field had all taken their first stops both Courtney and Davison were inside the top 10, but of course now starting to battle cars on fresh tyres while they were on 20 plus lap old tyres. Bieb’s took his first stop on lap 14 and GT lap 17.
As the race settled it was Whincup leading from Van Gisbergen and McLaughlin with GT in 7th behind the slowing Davison and the #34 crew and Bieber had made plenty of ground to be in 12th. On lap 26 things began to change up front with Scotty Mac suffering a puncture and on lap 31 Whincup had a driveline failure. After sitting behind Davison for 5 laps, on lap 31 GT passed him and moved into 5th with Reynolds (Erebus) in his sights as he was being held up by Courtney. The second stops occurred between laps 40 and 46. Bieber continued to impress but as McLaughlin fought his way back through the field Bieb’s went a little wide at turn 14 (final turn) and with two tyres on the grass he had spin sending him back to 18th. With 20 laps remaining it was Van Gisbergen leading from Reynolds and Tander. Reynolds pressured the back of the 888 car and GT sat back waiting for a mistake by either or both driver, but nothing was coming. Van Gisbergen continued out front and managed to build a gap of a little over a second to Reynolds and GT was a similar margin back in 3rd and this is how they finished.
Congratulations to 888 and Shane Van Gisbergen with weekend clean sweep. Two poles and two wins. Also, to Betty and the Erebus team led by Dave Reynolds very well done. To the GRM Team and sponsors thank you. Of course, we race to win but for GT to qualify in the manner he did, the strategy of the engineering group to position him where needed and the sheer racing ability of GT was fantastic. To Bieber the result I am sure wasn’t exactly what you would have hoped, but you can certainly hold your head high and have the confidence to know that you can go toe to toe with the Supercar field.
This weekend was also a Super2 round and both Chris Pither and The Barbarian (Mason Barbarian) raced. We were really pleased to announce Chris as one of our Endurance drivers this season and to also race in Super2. Over the weekend Chris qualified and raced well although probably not quite finding the sweet spot with the car set up. Chris had a 6th and two 7ths over the weekend. It is great to have Mason back for a second Super2 season and he has immediately shown significant development from last season. After a DNF in the first race and having to start down back The Barbarian drove smartly to 11th in race 2 and finished in the 10 on Sunday. Great job Mase!
I can’t wait until the GP!
MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT - GT’s Sunday qualifying effort.
MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT - Being trapped in my sheets on Sunday morning.