Garry’s race report: Incredible conditions at the Clipsal 500

Garry Roger’s from Wilson Security Racing GRM writes his thoughts on the opening round of the 2016 V8 Supercars Championship – Clipsal 500…

Wow! We thought we had seen it all when we had that infamous 2014 Bathurst 1000, but incredible conditions from heat to tropical rains and thunderstorms threw a curve ball at this year’s Clipsal 500.

The start of the season is always much anticipated and at Wilson Security Racing GRM we welcomed James Moffat to our Team and alongside Scott McLaughlin we believe that with a lot of hard work and the right attitude we can have our share of success throughout the 2016 Season. In saying that nothing at all can be taken for granted in what certainly is the most competitive and cut throat form of sedan Motor Racing in the world. Throughout the off season we have made some engineering changes to the Volvo S60 that we hope will be positive to its performance.

With a limit to the testing available many of these engineering changes that you make are a result of driver feedback throughout the season and changes and parts are designed by our engineer’s and then produced by our fabrication and composite departments. I am no computer guru but in this day and age of technology many of the changes made to a race car are tested on computer simulation prior to incorp orating them into the actual car. In most cases this simulation is very accurate, but there are occasions when something looks and reacts great on the computer but in reality may not be quite so good. But, you must keep on developing and improving because if you do not you will be left behind.

Joey our transporter driver left our Dandenong South facility on Monday (lunchtime) to begin his 46th year of travelling to the V8 Supercars/ATCC Championship. Joey has to pinch himself all the time since we made the move to Volvo and he has been fortunate enough to have a Volvo Globetrotter FH16 700hp prime mover to pull the B-Double Supercar trailers, which is a long way from the Bedford he first drove.

I am very lucky and also very proud of the amount of long term employees that I have. I really love this sport and the part that gives me most satisfaction is seeing the smiles on my boys and girls faces when we achieve a good result, but I am equally as proud of how they all react when things don’t quite go as planned.

I arrived in Adelaide early Thursday morning and as usual for Adelaide in March the weather was hot and sunny. The buzz around town and the anticipation in the lead up to the Clipsal always gets the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up.

Yet again the crowds were sensational over the weekend and the roar as passing manoeuvres occur throughout a race is always evident. V8 Supercar practice was on Friday and following the two sessions Scotty led the time sheets and recorded the fastest ever lap around the Adelaide street circuit. Moff performed well and was 16th fastest (6/10ths behind Scott).

I am certainly looking forward to Moff’s contribution to the Team this year, but I am also very aware that it will take some time for him to get up to speed with the Volvo after three seasons in the Nissan. I appreciate that the average observer probably thinks a race car is a race car and that is 90% right, but there are many technical differences between all V 8 Superc ars and a driver must adapt his driving style to get the very best out of a particular car. Without going into too much detail the behaviour and characteristics of the Volvo are quite different to the Nissan and Moff certainly impressed me with the gains that he made as the weekend went on.

Saturday and a final practice session in the morning before the two qualifying sessions for the 2 x 125km races later in the day. The Adelaide Clipsal 500 is broken down into 2 x 125km races and 1 x 250km race. This year the first qualifying and subsequent 125km race utilises the Dunlop soft tyre and the second 125km and 250km races and qualifying are on Dunlop hard tyres.

During the Saturday morning practice sessions the engineers have the drivers complete several laps at race speed on the soft tyre so as they can determine tyre wear and from that they can plan the best time to stop and change tyres. The Saturday races require that each car has at least one pit stop and must change at least 2 tyres. The cars will also require approx 5 seconds (20 litres) of fuel to make the race distance. We determined in the Saturday warm up that we would replace all four soft tyres during Race 1 and only the two rear tyres in Race 2 as the hard tyre has a longer life and several seconds is saved when only 2 tyres are changed.

Qualifying for the 2 x 125km races was a 10 minute back to back sessions with a 15 minute break in between. These sessions are particularly hectic and often only allow one real go at your best effort.

The track becomes faster as the session goes on as more rubber is laid onto the racing line. The aim is to time your maximum effort as late as possible, but with most teams also aiming to do the same it becomes a game of cat and mouse because if you leave it too long to enter the circuit for your final qualifying run you may only have time for one go at it.

The conservative approach is to leave enough time for two flying laps and the driver will normally drive 9/10ths on the first attempt and post what we refer to as a “banker”, that is a time that is very good but not the very best attempt, but at least if the driver makes a mistake on his 10/10ths attempt there is still a satisfactory time to fall back on. In Q1 Scotty was pipped by a little over 1/10th of a second and qualified 3rd behind Scott Pye (DJR Penske) and Whincup (888). Moff was 20th, a further 7/10ths back from Scotty.

The 15 minute break before Q2 is busy, especially when the tyre compound changes from soft to hard as changes are made to the car set up to accommodate for the less grip that the hard tyre provides. Again Scotty did a great job matching his 3rd from Q1 and Moff dropped one spot to 21st. This time Mostert (PRA) led the way.

Race 1 and Scotty got off the line well holding 3rd and Whincup led Pye by the end of lap 1. Moff was away well making up two positions to 18th. Assuming no Safety Cars we planned to bring Moff in on lap 12 and Scotty one lap later. This eventuated and both cars had all four soft tyres changed and 5 seconds of fuel added. Unfortunately for Scotty DJR Penske reacted to our call to stop and brought Pye in at the same time.

He was racing just in front of Scott in second and with their pit bay one spot behind ours Scott’s entry to the pit bay was made slower as he had to drive around Pye and then turn sharply in. This cost was a little over two seconds in the stop and on returning to the track Van Gisbergen (888) had moved in front of Scott. Following all the teams stopping the race settled with Whincup in the lead from Courtney (HRT) Van Giz and McLaughlin and that was the finishing order. Moff picked up a further position to finish 17th.

Race 2 and off the second row again McLaughlin was fourth at the end of the first lap behind Mostert, Courtney and Whincup. Moff started well picking up 3 positions on the opening lap to be 18th. Again with no Safety Cars in the opening laps the pre race plan of stopping Scott around lap 12/13 went to plan and we left Moff out a few more laps as he was showing good speed and had clean air in front.

We stopped James on lap 16 and the speed he had shown and late passing moves on Todd Kelly (Nissan) and Tim Slade (BJR) saw him finish 15th. Scotty continued in 4th and at the front behind Mostert, Courtney and Whincup. On lap 21 both Courtney and Whincup passed Mostert and that is how the race finished.

The heat throughout the race was intense with the air temp in the high 30’s and the cabin temp in the high 50’s (Celsius). Both James and Scott were exhausted when they got out of the car and similar to last year the radiation of heat through the floor of the car affected the drivers feet.

The fitness required to race in these conditions cannot be under estimated and it’s in these conditions when exhaustion is a factor that your decision making can be poor. Both of our boys did a very good job in not only racing well but returning both cars in excellent order. I have often admired the fitness level of James Courtney and there is no doubt that his physical fitness was a big reason as to why he won today.

Saturday night and it’s often dangerous to be content, but I was very happy with the way both Scott and James went about their racing today and the overall performance of Cowboy (Dean Cowling – Team Mgr) and all off his boys.

I was also extremely satisfied with how Richard Muscat and James Golding (Bieber) performed in the V8 Development Series (DVS). This year both Wilson Security and PAYCE are backing us to run these two young up and comers in this series. In 2015 we ran Bieber in DVS and Richard raced in Carrera Cup. Bieber is 20 and Richard 23 and I believe that both have a bright future in Motor Racing.

I have always had a lot of pleasure bringing on young guys and I am thankful to our sponsor group that they have provided me the financial backing to give these two young guys a go.

The DVS series is a real test and there is often plenty of “biffing and bashing” going on and a driver needs to be forceful without wrecking their car, but also cannot “pussyfoot” around or be intimidated by the others. On Friday Richard qualified 10th and drove with great maturity to finish 5th, which in his first race and against some seasoned campaigners was an effort that he should be very proud of.

Bieber qualified 7th and had also raced with great purpose and maturity to be 5th and as they were about to begin their final lap he was taken out by Kean (BJR) as he spun heading onto the main straight. Bieber eventually rejoined the track to finish 13th.

On Saturday Bieber showed great form to qualify on the second row in 4th and again Richard was solid in 10th. Again the race provided plenty of mayhem and unfortunately this time Muscat hit the wall at turn 8 after a Safety Car restart while in 8th. Bieber was racing with great determination and purpose in 3rd keeping experienced campaigners Paul Dumbrell and Todd Hazlewood at bay. On the final lap he dove up the inside of Jack Le Brocq to finish 2nd. Great job Bieber!

Sunday morning and the weather was very hot and humid after an overnight shower. Today there was qualifying followed by a Top 10 Shootout and the 250km final race of the Clipsal weekend.

Strategy wise the race required that you put a minimum of 140 litres of fuel in each car during the race (that is over and above what you start with). These minimum fuel drop races require quite a bit of thought and depending on where you qualify as to how you approach them. For instance if you choose to fill your car to the top and there is an early Safety Car you will have very little available room in your tank to put fuel in much of the 140 litres required during the pit stops. Pre race as many variables are taken into account as possible, but one thing that you cannot bank on when you are up the front is an early Safety Car.

The “conservative” approach is to start with somewhere around 80 litres of fuel and if an early Safety Car does occur you should be able to input approx. 40 litres of the minimum 140 requirement, but others may gamble on this being a definite and only start with 40 litres for example and therefore are able to put more in . There are so many variables.

Today it appeared that the weather could be a factor as the race start came closer, but to exactly what impact was not known until literally seconds before the race start. The entire field left pit lane to form up on the grid with slick tyres and with only a minute or two before race start heavy rain drops began to fall, but only sporadically. We made the decision to quickly change Car #33 and #34 to wet weather tyres which is allowed on the grid. This is done by Joey and Squiddy our tyre men with portable air bottles and our regular wheel change guns. It is a pressure situation for all including the engineers that make the call.

Many teams did the same, but not all. The cars completed their formation lap and just as the race was about to begin the heaven’s really opened up and the start was delayed 5 minutes. Those that had not changed to wet tyres on the grid quickly ducked into pit lane on the formation lap to do this change. They would lose their grid position and would be required to start from pit lane.

As the rain continued the Stewards made the decision to start the race behind the Safety Car and after 6 laps the race began as the rain eased. Scott had a solid start not putting a foot wrong as other speared off and were overzealous in the conditions.

Unfortunately for Moff who had made up 6 places in the opening 6 laps, he had a coming together with Nick Percat (LDM) which bent a front steering arm. Requiring ten minutes to fix, James’ day was over but it was important to get him back out for some track time and some points for the Team.

As the track dried the engineers were busy calculating the “breakeven” lap time to go back to slick tyres. To explain this, as a track dries the wet weather tyres become less effective and there is a point where their performance will be less than that of a slick. You will often see a driver looking for wet sections of the track as the race line dries so as he can keep the tyres cool and extend their life.

During these times of changing weather it really can become a “lottery” as the engineers spend time anticipating if more rain is coming and if so how long away is it, can the driver stay on wet tyres until the next downpour, or will it be best to switch to slicks and back to wets when it rains again? There is so much to think about and often gamble on. The weather bureau (BOM) website is the first reference point as are people around the track, that and local knowledge. The rain that came today was certainly nothing like that which had been anticipated or even depicted on BOM.

On the Team’s arrival on Wednesday they had what they thought were similar afternoon storms but they went as quick as they came, today this did not happen. On lap 17 Jason Bright (BJR) was the first driver to choose to put slicks back on. We all watched his splits closely on one monitor while others watched the incoming weather on another.

It was decided to bring Scott in on lap 20 to put slicks on. All of the lead group of cars did the same. By lap 28 the rain had arrived again and over the preceding couple of laps the majority of the field went back on to wet tyres. At each of these stops we were putting fuel in Car #33, but also planning for the race to go close to the 250 km/78 laps, but maybe a few laps short because of the delayed start.

The race had so much going on, but the one thing that stayed the same was that #33 was in the lead group of cars all day and as other notable drivers succumbed to the deteriorating conditions Scott kept all four tyres on the race track and apart from a bump with Mostert he drove an incredibly clean race to keep all four tyres on the bitumen.

By lap 36 he led from Will Davison (Tekno) and Craig Lowndes (888) and on lap 42 the race was Red Flagged and all the cars were parked in pit lane. After approximately 15 minutes the race was restarted behind the Safety Car and Lowndes moved into second as Davison pitted. It looked like a battle between Scotty and Lowndes to the end which was 5.18pm plus one lap and the time was 5.14pm.

There was confusion as to whether the 140 litres of fuel had to put in the car as the race was severely shortened, but it was a requirement. We had no choice but to pit Scott on the final lap, and Lowndes had to do the same to take on more fuel. The result was Nick Percat (LDM) came through for an inaugural win for Lucas Dumbrell’s Team and I am extremely pleased for Lucas, Nick and the entire LDM Team.

From Wilson Security GRM’s point of view some fantastic positives to take from the weekend, I would be kidding to say that there is not some disappointment but we put ourselves in a winning position, Scotty drove tremendously and the crew didn’t put a foot wrong in the pit stops. It is a great part of our racing that a Team that qualified 15th, was 22nd on lap 3 and came through to win. It wouldn’t happen in many other forms of Motorsport.

To all the people of Adelaide you put on an incredible event and the enthusiasm of all involved, the presentation of the facility and overall running of the event is first class!

See you all at the AGP in two weeks and the next Championship round is in Tasmania and to all our Tasmanian fans it is only $10.00 to watch the Supercars in Tassie on the Friday and $35.00 on the weekend. Come along it is one of the best tracks to view Supercar racing in Australia!

Regards

Garry

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