Garry’s Race Report: Gold Coast 600

| Photographer Credit: GRM

Garry Roger’s from Wilson Security Racing GRM writes his thoughts on the latest V8 Supercars round, the Gold Coast 600……

I always have fond memories of returning to the Gold Coast street race. It was the place where I had my very last race and to complete the fairy tale it was a win in an Auscar in 1993 beating home Jim Richards who was driving for me in the second Valvoline EB Falcon.

The actual story has an earlier chapter from 1992 when again Jimmy and I scrapped it out in the Auscar event and heading into the last lap I was leading and as the Flag Marshall waived the white flag (as they do in the US to signify the beginning of the final lap) I mistook it for the chequered flag and stopped in front of the Valvoline box waiving to all of the “Yanks” who had travelled to Australia and was proud as punch for holding the champ Jimmy Richards at bay for the final 6 laps and before I knew it he had powered past me and all the sponsors in the box were yelling and screaming at me to keep going as there was a lap to go.

Very embarrassing at the tim e, but now quite humorous, in fact it extended my career one more year as I was determined to return in 1993 and get that win. I’ve had plenty of “nightmares” in my time in Motorsport, but this certainly was a fairytale.

Well, 2015 and 22 years on plenty has changed, but some things are certainly still the same and it is so important to press on and stay as positive as possible regardless of the situation. As a Team we have certainly had our challenges throughout this season, but through persistence and the positive approach by my entire Team including our sponsor group we have managed to turn around our early season misfortune and have had some very positive results.

The Gold Coast 600 is the final race in the three event Pirtek Enduro Cup primarily 2 x 300 kilometre (102 lap) races. Each race requires the co-driver to complete a minimum of 34 laps. The street circuit certainly provides challenges in regards to the high speed chicanes which are made from tyre bundles and positioned along the back section of the track and make up corners 6 to 10 of the circuit. There are four practice sessions on the Friday, two of which are for the co-drivers only. Following these sessions McLaughlin/Premat were 6th and Wall/Pither 23rd. The Nissan of Moffat was fastest.

The allocation of tyres was 2 x hard and 1 x soft for each of the races. The smart approach to the races is to start your co-driver and get his 34 laps out of the way then put the main driver in for the final 68 laps. In regards to tyres it is best to start on hard tyres and again put hard tyres on at the first stop before making the run to home on soft tyres at your final stop. The race required at least 3 stops for fuel and tyres.

Qualifying on Saturday morning and the guys were confident of a good showing. We felt that we had the car well tuned and the 6th in practice for Car #33 was probably an understatement of its potential. Scotty certainly did the job and qualified 4th with Van Gisbergen (Tekno) quickest, David (#34) also did a very solid job improving markedly from practice, qualifying 18th. Saturday’s qualifying was followed by a Top 10 shootout, and Scott certainly goes into these situations with remarkable confidence as his record under this type of pressure is well proven.

Following the six cars before him and a particularly solid lap by Winterbottom (Prodrive) Scotty outpaced them all to lead the time sheets. With Rick Kelly (Nissan), Whincup (888) and Van Giz to go we watched in anticipation from the pit. Kelly was 5/10ths slower, and then Whincup was a little untidy 6/10ths back and now only Van Gisbergen to go. The track is divided into 3 timing sectors and after th e first two Scotty was nearly 3/10ths up on Van Gisbergen, but as he can do he put everything on the line in that final sector doing a sensational job to pick up a mammoth 4/10ths in one sector to pip Scotty by a 1/10th to claim pole.

Starting from the front row for the second event in a row (following Bathurst) certainly illustrated that we had some pace. Premat’s job was to do 34 solid laps and maintain track position then hand over to McLaughlin. Alex had a very good start holding second position behind Webb (Tekno) and built a solid gap to the third placed Nissan (Dave Russell). By lap 15 Webb and Premat had a 6 second plus margin on the chasing group.

Our boys were certainly all prepared for a pit stop if the Safety Car was deployed, but unusually this did not happen during this early part of the race where the lesser experienced co drivers in some instances tend to get a little over anxious. Unfortunately Premat had a fairly solid coming together at the chicane though turns 6 to 10 and did substantial damage to the front splitter (bumper bar) of Car #33.

It was lap 25 and it appeared that the car would need a replacement front bar but we were eager to get to lap 34 before having to do this as an unscheduled stop would ruin any chance of a strong result. Although losing time to Webb, Alex did get the car through to scheduled stop at the end of lap 34.

The crew had been practicing front bar replacements, but under racing circumstances when the mounting points can be misaligned due to impact the practice that you have been doing in some instances is irrelevant as removing a clean/straight bar with another is much easier and simpler than removing a torn/bent one with a new one. Cowboy (Dean Cowling – Team Mgr) gave the boys clear instruction of the process.

The car was taking on 30 seconds of fuel. While the fuel was going in, Ears (Kieron Woodger) and Casper (Ben Evans) who normally are the rear wheel men would change their wheels and then run to the front wheels and change them. While this was going on Dougie (Adrian Kroemer) and Josh (that’s his real name) removed the front bar and replaced it. They did a sensational job up until they couldn’t align the centre tow strap that is fitted to the bar and unfortunately what looked like a replacement that would be completed within the 30 second fuel fi ll went 15 or so seconds over as the boys grappled with the tow strap. The result was that Scott was now back in 12th position.

Scott was doing a good job and had worked his way back into the Top 10 by lap 51, when he began to radio in explaining of poor steering which got worse and worse and by lap 60 he had no choice but come in to have the steering inspected as the data was showing a drop in the oil pressure of the power steering unit.

As it worked out the power steering fluid was leaking from the steering oil cooler which appeared fractured. This resulted in Car #33 losing several laps and finishing 21st. You can only surmise but it would appear that the impact that destroyed the front bar would also have caused this leak.

Starting from P18 Car #34 (Pither) got a little bogged down as the lights went out and lost four positions to be 24th by the end of lap 1. Although positions were gained as others pitted earlier, by the time David Wall took control on lap 36 he rejoined in 23rd. David was putting together some solid laps and picked off several positions although he had a late coming together with Dave Reynolds. Wall/Pither eventually finished 16th.

Saturday night and sure there was a little disappointment amongst the team as Car #33 was certainly in a position to achieve a solid result. But, we have nobody to blame for what happened the fact is that the driver was over zealous in his approach to the chicane causing the damage that would subsequently ruin the chances of a good result.

Sunday and a repeat of Saturday except there was no Top 10 shootout. Scotty was more determined than ever to achieve a result and the boys had delivered a car that had very good speed and handled the circuit well. The session was 20 minutes that would allow two qualifying runs. A run consists of an out lap (the lap you leave the pits), another lap at what we refer to as an “80%” when the driver has a “good go” but doesn’t put everything on the line followed by two laps as quick and controlled as possible, followed by an in lap when you return to the pit garage.

Scott was right on the pace from the beginning and hovered near the top, when with two minutes remaining he jumped to the top with a 1.10.76. The guys watched the times rollover from the other cars as they tried to top Scott’s lap and as much as Lowndes got close (1.10.82), Scotty had done it, the 13th pole position of his career.

Considering fellow Kiwi great, Greg Murphy had 13 career poles in his career Scott is certainly on track to have an imposing pole position record as his career unfolds. But, as much as poles are great, race results are what we all race for. David was 9/10ths back in 20th and again to illustrate the super competitive nature of our sport 4/10ths better and he would have been in the 10!

The race build up on the Gold Coast is up there with Bathurst, Clipsal and Townsville. The entertainment and atmosphere really has you wound up and excited in anticipation for the race ahead. In particular the “Jumping Trucks” that have appeared at Clipsal and again at the Gold Coast are extremely exciting and something that really entertains the crowd.

The same as Saturday the co-drivers would start in the cars. This was not a “rule” as you are able to start your main driver if you wish, but then you are at the mercy of your co-driver having to race against the main drivers in the later stages of the race which would not be ideal.

I had a little chat to Alex regarding yesterday’s happenings and there is of course no point dwelling on the past, but it is very important to learn from it. I was confident that he would do a good job. As the lights went out Steve Richards (888) got the better of the start and jumped Alex, who settled 2nd closely followed by Saturday’s race winner Webb (Tekno).

Alex was driving very well maintaining excellent speed while keeping the car off the walls and tyre barriers.

Lap 8 and unfortunately after a promising start and racing inside the 20, Pither (#34) had a coming together as he ducked up the inside of Pedersen (111 Super Black) and it was race over. It was too early in the race for the front running cars to take advantage of the Safety Car period in regards to taking on fuel, but several of the lower placed teams took on fuel.

In doing so you put yourself in a position where the co-driver will have to do more than the 34 laps required as you need them to use the fuel up that they have taken on. One of the cars to do this was the Kelly/Russell Nissan that was running 22nd,this would be significant later in the race.

By the end of his 34 laps Alex handed the car over to Scott in 2nd position. By lap 54 when the Safety Car came out to clean up some debris on the track (Scott’s drivers side mirror!) Scott was still second behind Lowndes and all teams took advantage of the Safety Car to pit, refuel and put the soft tyres on.

Another interesting strategy was played out. Car #22 (HRT- Courtney/Perkins) stopped twice during this period. Filling up on lap 54 and again on lap 57 before the restart it appeared that they were planning to race to the end. With 45 laps to go it would be touch and go as our calculations suggested 44 laps’ maximum would see your tank empty.

As the race unfolded the cars of Courtney and Rick Kelly passed all those in front of them, as teams stopped for fuel between laps 62 and 90 and ended up 1st and 2nd. Scott was passed late by Van Gisbergen and by Tander who only took on 3 seconds of fuel late to eventually finish 6th.

Overall we cannot be too disappointed and like all things in retrospect the boys may have done things differently, but the risk of giving up track position (2nd) to gamble on fuel strategy is not something done when you are at the front of the pack. It is a gamble that you take when your car does not necessarily have the raw speed to win.

Anyway, yet again car racing at its best, plenty of ups and downs and we experienced them all.

Looking forward to Pukekohe in two weeks!

Regards

Garry

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