Garry’s Race Report: Phillip Island SuperSprint

Garry Roger’s from Wilson Security Racing GRM writes his thoughts on the latest V8 Supercars round, the WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint……

As a Victorian team located in the south east of Melbourne the trip to Phillip Island from a logistical point of view is very easy. Drive out the front of work onto the South Gippsland Highway, turn right and travel for an hour and we are there. Everybody loves this except Joey (Joe Sullivan-Transporter Driver) who loves the longer trips and who is rumoured to have picked the truck up at the workshop on the Wednesday night driven half an hour, slept in his Volvo Globetrotter FH16 700 bunk (as it is more comfortable than his bed at home) and travelled the second half the next morning. Very responsible Joey!!

The team all met at the workshop on Thursday and travelled together down the highway for the set up. The only one missing was Cowboy (Dean Cowling-Team Manager) who thought it would be better to ride his bike down. Not a bad effort Cowboy, but you had a tailwind and the road is rather flat. Maybe a ride to Winton next year is in order??

Phillip Island is a sensational race circuit approximately 4.5 kilometres in length with high speed flowing corners, a long straight and a hairpin. In fact it is the second longest circuit that we race on, only behind Mount Panorama. Having not raced myself for many years now I was reminded last year of the commitment needed to really master this circuit. We were at Phillip Island testing our then new Volvo S60 Supercar and I did a couple of laps with Robert Dahlgren in a road S60 Polestar and I felt like a nervous passenger as Robert powered down the straight and I was sure that we were not going to make the right hander, but we did and I promptly told Robert I had calls to make and he had better let me out at the end of the lap.

As spectators we often take for granted the talent of our drivers and the edge on which they race. It’s only occasionally such as the Chaz Mostert crash at Bathurst that we are actually reminded of how dangerous this sport is and the “bravery” of those competing at the very top level.

We headed to Phillip Island with confidence not only gained over the past few rounds, but also with the knowledge that we had a very good car there last year. Previous form at a track of course does not necessarily guarantee that you will achieve a good result as Teams are continually developing and improving what they do. This development and constant improvement is hard to clarify clearly as it can be many, many minute changes that put together can make a little change/improvement.

Friday practice and the track was wet. The majority of the one hour session was held on wet tyres with only a handful of laps near the end of the session as a dry line began to appear on the race line when we could put the slicks on. The tyre allocation for the weekend was 4 sets of Dunlop HARD compound tyres per car and what is referred to as a “marked” set for practice. In total 5 sets. The SOFT tyre is not used at Phillip Island because of the high speed, high load nature of the circuit that would generate too much heat for the capability of the soft tyre.

Very little was achieved overall on the Friday as the second session was also wet. You may wonder why it matters to the set up of the car whether it is wet or dry? The first thing I would say is wet practice is great if the race is going to be wet, but when the weekend forecast is fine wet practice is no help whatsoever. The Engineers and drivers like to set the car up soft on a wet track so as the tyres spend most of the time on the race circuit so as to maximise grip. A harder set up is more advantageous on a dry track because the softer the car is spending time going “up and down” on the shocks that energy and power is lost.

The “marked” set of practice tyres were meant to be handed back to Dunlop following Friday practice, but because the teams had very limited opportunity to run slick tyres a decision was made that the teams could use them in the short 15 minute Saturday morning practice. This session is normally used by the teams to warm up their cars and ensure that everything is in order for the upcoming qualifying session. But, in this case teams would be using their new “marked” Dunlop HARD tyres and would treat the session as a “mini” qualifying session so as they knew where they stood come qualifying.

We chose to set the cars up as we had them at last year’s Phillip Island round and with only 15 minutes there would only be time for two separate runs with a small window for minor changes to setup between the two. Scotty ended this session in P3 and David was 25, but did not get to complete his flying lap due to a mechanical black flag re lating to the window net. Reynolds was quickest followed by Whincup. The boys were generally happy with the cars and only a few minor changes were made prior to qualifying.

Qualifying was 2×10 minute sessions for Races 31 and 32 of the Championship. With the Phillip Island circuit being longer than the others that we race at during the Super Sprint rounds the 10 minute sessions really only give you two opportunities to set a qualifying lap. Normally at these events the Engineers will instruct the driver to do an 80% lap, that is go pretty hard but don’t put everything on the line. This is then known as a “banker” that is in case you run off or make a mistake on your qualifier you still have a lap that is “ok” and will probably start you mid to rear of field.

At Phillip Island there is no time for this. With 4 sets of new tyres for the weekend we chose to use two sets in the first qualifying. Scott and David would go out on new tyres and their out lap would be used to put heat into the tyres and the second lap would be their first qualifier then they would return to the pits put the next set of tyres on and repeat the process. The tyre at Phillip Island that attracts the most wear is the right hand front tyre, but it also the one that needs heat put into it for the qualifying lap. The driver needs to be careful in the manner in which this is done as the tyres will need to be used for racing later in the day.

A cold tyre is damaged a lot easier than a warm tyre so on this out lap Scott and David need to take their time getting heat into the right hand front by swerving side to side, but with time very limited they cannot take too much time. It is a real balancing act of heating the tyre up at a sensible rate and also not wasting time. The rear tyres are much easily warmed up by doing a couple of “little burnouts”.

Scotty has become a qualifying specialist and has the perfect temperament to be able to complete what is required on the “death knock”. He has instilled such confidence within the GRM team that wherever he sits early in qualifying everybody still believes he will do something that will see him up near the top of the sheets. And he did it again. On the final lap the #33 jumped to second 9/100ths off the pole time of Whincup and David was 20th. A brief 15 minute break before qualifying for Race 32 would be held. As we had chosen to use two new sets for each of the runs in the first qualifying we would only use one in this session and save the 4th set for the Sunday qualifying. This time on his final lap Scotty reversed the previous result claiming pole from Whincup and Lowndes 3rd. Again David was 20th. This was Scotty’s fifth pole of the season.

Race 31 and starting second Scotty was beaten to the first corner by both 888 cars and slotted into 3rd. There was plenty of pushing and shoving going on just behind him and David did a good job to stay out of trouble as Van Gisbergen and Reynolds fought hard between themselves before Reynolds was unloaded by Van Gisbergen on lap 2 sending him off the track at high speed through turns 7 and 8. The race then settled down and the next 12 laps were reasonably uneventful and Scott finished 3rd behind Lowndes and Whincup and David finished 23rd.

Race 32 and Scotty sat on pole and I know that I have said it before but I am always very proud to see the Volvo S60 sitting on the front row and feel so pleased for all of the boys and girls at work. Anyway the aim of course is to turn Scott’s great qualifying into a race win. But, he just couldn’t quite match Whincup off the line and was beaten to turn 1 and had to battle Lowndes hard into turns 1 and 2 to maintain second position. This is basically how the race finished Whincup, McLaughlin and Lowndes 3rd. David again was 23rd.

Saturday night and both cars were relatively straight with only a few minor touch ups required to David’s car as a result of a little panel rubbing as he raced in the pack.

Sunday morning and prior to practice the fans get to walk on the grid and see the cars and drivers up close. This is a really great part of our sport and the fans are really enthusiastic during these grid walks. I really enjoy watching all the kids have their photos taken with their idols and enjoy talking to both new fans and those that have been around for years. There are always many familiar faces at Phillip Island and I am very thankful for all of the support we receive.

Qualifying for the longer (200km) Sunday races is over 20 minutes which does allow more time for minor changes and the aim is to have everything as good as possible so as to put your best performance forward towards the very end of the session. In V8 Supercar Racing where 100ths of a second can equate to many grid positions you need everything going your way. In regards to qualifying the later you can leave your qualifying lap the better because the track in most cases gets faster as the session goes on and more rubber is left on the circuit. Scott’s qualifying lap was looking great after the first sector where he headed the times for that sector but had a little slip up during the second sector that was costly (approx. 4/10ths). In the end he qualified 4th 3/10ths off the Prodrive Ford of Winterbottom on pole followed by Lowndes and Whincup. Wall was 23rd.

Race time and on the grid Scott eyed the two cars sitting on the front row. Winterbottom leading the Championship and next to the Ford Lowndes who is currently second. Jamie Whincup was on the second row next to Scott. Scotty was determined to jump away as quick as possible and hopefully slip between Winterbottom and Lowndes as both would be a little “conservative” in regards to their aggression as they wouldn’t want a DNF. With Whincup sitting next to him I am sure he had a similar plan. As the lights went out Scotty got away well and forced his way past Lowndes with some very well controlled aggression and only had Winterbottom in front of him. Whincup chose to stop on lap 1 for his first required stop and we did the same with David Wall. In fact Whincup who entered pit lane while second came out of pit lane in 20th, behind David Wall.

The 200km race required that each car put a minimum of 120 litres in the car during the race. This needs to be done over two pit stops. The worst case scenario for teams is to have to do both cars at the same time as one has to wait while the other car is serviced. To eliminate the chance of this during the first stops many teams elect to bring one car in at the end of the first lap so as to get them out of sequence with their second car. If you choose to do this it is obviously important to not start with too much fuel in the car as if you do you will be unable to put much in after only one lap. With fuel flowing at approximately 4 litres per second your total stationary time is 30 seconds. As discussed in earlier reports teams may elect to put more or less of this fuel in at their first stop depending on the track position of the car and the traffic in pit lane.

Scotty was gradually applying pressure to Winterbottom and had built a small gap back to Lowndes. Our pre race strategy was to stop Scott after completing lap 8 and this went to plan although there was a very close moment releasing Car#33 from the pit bay. The car controller (Gypsy) has a vital job during these stops. First he is the guy who stands in front of the car so if the brakes don’t work or lock up he becomes the bloke who lands on the bonnet, but more importantly he must watch the pit lane traffic and only release the car when it can travel safely into the fast lane without colliding with either an incoming or outgoing car.

As a result of our team finishing order last year and the fact that some higher teams in the order race more than 2 cars we are located to the rear of pit lane. When you have a car that is racing near the front and pits its release can be impacted by teams in front of you in pit lane but well behind you on the track that pit on the same lap and block your ability to exit as they travel passed you on their way to their pit. In this instance Gypsy was going to have to make a split second decision as to whether Scott could make it out in front of Coulthard (BJR) as he appeared in pit lane just as Scott’s service was completed. In these circumstances it is an instinct call and Gypsy did not hesitate releasing Scott with millimetres separating Car#33 from Car#14. As I am sure many of you have witnessed if this decision is incorrect or the car controller hesitates a pit lane collision is likely and the result is race over as you must serve a drive through penalty. Certainly a job that on television looks easy but in the heat of the battle with noise and action everywhere a really cool head is required.

Anyway the race continued and Scott’s out lap and first few laps under the direction from Krusty (Richard Hollway – Engineer) were as good as he could do without burning up his tyres. The aim here was to have Scott jump Winterbottom when he pitted and this worked as the Prodrive exited the pit at the beginning of lap 12 as the #33 car shot past in to the lead. The order was McLaughlin, Winterbottom and Caruso was doing a great job in the Nissan in third place. At this stage it was obvious that Whincup had taken on more fuel than the other front runners at the first stop and would be back amongst the action following the second stops if wasn’t getting held up too badly battling his way through the pack. David was doing a very solid job putting together consistent laps and had worked his to 15th.

Lap 20 and Scotty’s fuel light came on as he approached turn 4 (Honda Hairpin) and he was pitting for his second and final stop. At the same time #34 had stopped for his second stop, but the boys did well to get David out, set up for Scott and were ready as he entered pit lane. This stop would require the remainder of the 120 litre minimum fuel drop and four tyres. Based on the fuel required the stop would be 23 seconds.

The fuel man (E) also has a vital job when race results are affected by very small things. As the car enters the pit bay E is armed with the refuelling device and must accurately attach it to the entry point located in the rear ¼ of the car. Again, this doesn’t sound too hard, but with car stopping a few centimetres forward or back of the refueller it is vital to find the correct spot on the car with your first attempt as vital seconds can be wasted attaching the fuel line. Another thing to be aware of is for the fuel to flow out of the head of refilling device quite a bit of force needs to be applied to open the spring loaded nozzle.

All this went fine, but as Scott was dropped to the ground to be released into pit lane Gypsy had to hold him for a moment (1.3 seconds) as the HRT car of Tander loomed up alongside. Scotty then began the slow trip up pit lane (40kmh) as we watched the monitors to see where Lowndes and Winterbottom were and in fact discovered that Lowndes in the previous lap had managed to pass Winterbottom while pitting. As Scott exited pit lane and on to the race line Lowndes came screaming down on him towards turn 1, Scotty could move over and block and risk being shunted or keep a little left which he chose to do.

Lowndes held his breath and squeezed inside Scotty who was now second sandwiched between Lowndes and Winterbottom. Whicncup had now benefited from his quicker second stop and was back in fourth, but catching Winterbottom. Scotty put pressure on Lowndes but couldn’t find a way past and settled for an excellent second. Meanwhile Whincup had raced to the rear of Win terbottom and on the last lap made a spectacular dive up the inside at MG to finish 3rd. David continued strongly in the mid pack and did a very commendable job to finish 14th and with a very clean car considering the activity that occurred in the mid pack.

Overall a very, very good weekend for Wilson Security GRM, of course a win would have topped it off but our car speed and particularly our reliability are two very big positives to come out of the weekend. To quote Bargs when he used to drive for us “how good is that” three podiums, pole position and two straight cars bring on Homebush.

Well done girls and boys!!

Regards

Garry

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