Whitley’s TCR Melbourne Grand Prix debut cut short

BNT V8 driver Alexandra Whitley writes about her Australian Grand Prix debut in the TCR Australia support category last weekend….

TCR Australia were to make their debut at the Melbourne Grand Prix with the Formula 1 over the weekend of the 12-15th of March. After a very late call up from TCR and thanks to support from Haier Australia we were able to organise to make the round. I was very excited and proud to be representing Haier on the world stage and watching the Formula 1 live, but also competing alongside them for the first time in my career at the world class track of Albert Park. After showing some great pace in the early practices, the weekend was soon to be cut short and finally cancelled due to the international pandemic of the Corona Virus.

It was a few days of organisation, late nights and many phone calls to organise the last minute logistics to make the round in the Haier Volkswagen TCR, which was to be run by Melbourne Performance Centre at the Grand Prix. Landing in Melbourne a day early gave me the chance to finalize the sign writing on the Haier TCR, help the team set-up the pits at the track, head to their headquarters and spend some time on their driving simulator and the all-important 5.3km track walk. Albert Park is unique as its only used for one weekend a year making testing and driving extremely rare. It is a street circuit, which means the roads are shut down as the concrete walls and catch fences are put into place to create a closed circuit for the weekend.

We had two practice sessions on Thursday morning and qualifying later that afternoon. The Hair TCR looked incredible both on track and off and really stood out from the crowd. As the practices went on our speed improved as I learnt the ‘ins and outs’ of the track, but we had a brake issue as the pedal continued to become soft.

As the session went on the brake pedal pushed closer to the floor. This meant I wasn’t confident in pushing the brake properly as I didn’t know if it was going to stop. Our first practise wasn’t flash, but the MPC team worked on the brakes for the next one. As we rolled out the pedal felt harder this time, however as the laps went on it became soft again as the issue hadn’t been resolved with the changes made, but we still managed to finish within the top 10 fastest in ninth place.

We didn’t have much time to turn the car around for qualifying, it was up to me to make the best with what I had underneath me, but I was ready and determined to give it my all. Heading down the straight as I accelerated it wouldn’t change up through all the gears. Oh no! I nursed it through the rest of the lap and came into the pits to see if we could rectify the problem. We reset the electronics and tried again. However it still wouldn’t change properly. Along with the very untidy and inconsistent gear changes, the pedal grew soft too. I battled with the car and struggled to push it too its limits and we qualified a disappointing 21st.

The team worked late into the night and changed many parts including the potentiometer (for the gears) and the master cylinders (for the brakes). I was excited for the race and some passing practice as we proved we had great car speed and deserved to be at least in the top 10. We were geared up ready to rumble when the race was delayed by 30 minutes. That soon turned into an hour and then an hour and a half. We were then informed the entire event was cancelled.

Disappointed are the only words to describe how the whole motorsport community and fans are feeling, however some things are completely out of our control.

Yes, we all wanted to have fun racing this weekend, but the international decision to help avoid overwhelming our healthcare systems to breaking-point causing the death toll to skyrocket, takes understandable precedence.

I cannot thank Haier enough for the help, support and belief in me to make the round. I am mostly disappointed for Haiers and MPC’s hard work and dedication gone in to make the round. I’m sure you will see the Haier VW and I on the track again very soon!

Cheers,
Alex

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