Garry’s Race Report: We climbed the Mountain again

| Photographer Credit: GRM

Garry Roger’s from Wilson Security Racing GRM writes his thoughts on the latest V8 Supercars round, the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000……

Well, we have climbed The Mountain yet again and as the years pass by I certainly feel it. The Bathurst 1000 week is like no other and the analogy of The Mountain is certainly significant. As the race is in the later part of our season you feel as though you are already approaching the peak, and the Bathurst week is the same. Our team left our Dandenong South facility at 6.00am on the Tuesday morning and travelled together in a Volvo Coach to Bathurst.

At this stage there is much anticipation, excitement and expectation and there is nothing like coming around the corner of The Great Western Highway and seeing The Mountain with that famous “Bathurst 1000” sign, after 40 plus years of going there it still gives me “Goosebumps”. At this stage of the weekend we are merely skirting the base of The Mountain and by Sunday we will be well and truly on our way to the top only hoping not to “fall off”.

Our trip up was as usual was a lot of fun. Our first stop was at the Wodonga CMV Volvo Truck Dealership for morning tea where Jenny and Stephen Tanner of Stephen Tanner Automotive of Albury had arranged a feast for the boys and a collection of local Volvo cars to greet us. From here we travelled onto Gundagai for lunch and then through Young for afternoon tea, arriving at Bathurst at 6.30pm. A quick lap of the track in our Bayside Coach under the control of Henry (our driver for the week who did a tremendous job) and off for dinner then bed.

Wednesday is set up day and you can certainly feel the excitement in the air with people scurrying everywhere and plenty of happy faces about, which of course will all change when the action begins and some are unfortunately faced with car set up issues, crashes and other things that dampen your enthusiasm. Over the years I have experienced all of these emotions and all you can do is keep on going and as the “hurdles” come up in front of you, you somehow jump, climb or scramble your way over and keep moving forward. Of course the whole Bathurst experience is much more enjoyable when everything runs smoothly, but we all know that this is not a reality and regardless of where you finish the weekend there will certainly be plenty of ups and downs along the way.

Wednesday and David and Chris, Scott and Alex, Sally, Barry and myself travelled to Orange to visit the local Volvo Dealer, John Davis Volvo. John and his family, employees and customers made us feel extremely welcome and as much as it gives all of them a “buzz” seeing the Volvo race team visit we also get a great deal of satisfaction seeing the enthusiasm of people like John and his team for what we do. John was in such a generous mood that he lent me a new Volvo XC90 and as much as I am an “analogue man” I handled all the modern technology of this car with ease and couldn’t get over the power of such a large car. Thanks John.

Thursday and with everything set up the eagerness to hit the track was certainly there. The day involved 3x45minute practice sessions, with one of the sessions for co-drivers only. The aim during this time is not to “set a lap record” but gain a real handle on the car and work out the strengths and weaknesses of the car. At Bathurst you can have a car that is quick over the top of the mountain and slower up and down the straights and vice versa. The aim is to find an even balance with the car where it handles well over the top as well as having good speed up and down the straights. This is done via rear wing angle adjustments and suspension set up.

Following the Thursday sessions the feeling was we had a car that was going to be good at race pace, but may struggle for that one real quick qualifying lap. You may ask “what is the difference? If a car is quick one way why not the other? The simple answer to this is fuel load and set up. In race mode the car carries 112 litres of fuel and is also set up a little less aggressively so as to conserve tyre wear, it is the opposite for qualifying where you carry only enough fuel for the qualifying run and aggressively set the car up as tyre wear is not such an issue as you are going to only run hard for 2 or 3 laps. The day ended with Car#33 13th and Car#34 24th. Fabian Coulthard (BJR) was quickest in a new practice record of 2.05.478.

Thursday night and I attended the Legendary Moments Dinner for the Bathurst Museum at the Rydges Hotel on Conrod Straight. It was great to share a few of my old stories with such an enthusiastic crowd. Spending times with a crowd like this and all the old stories makes me feel really proud of Motorsport in our country.

Friday and as much as Thursday is an important day, Friday is the day where you need to be confident with the direction you are going in with regards to car set up. There isn’t too much time to keep experimenting with only one practice session and afternoon qualifying. The morning practice saw Jamie Whincup (Red Bull) become the first (and only) person to break the 2.05 barrier in Supercar/Touring Car at Mt.Panorama (2.04.909). Scotty (#33) was 11th and David (#34) 24th. Friday afternoon and as qualifying approached the nervous energy of pit lane was palpable. We all know that in this modern era you can win from anywhere at Bathurst, but for the confidence of your team and for your sponsor’s making the Top 10 shootout that is to be held on the Saturday afternoon is extremely important.

We had not been inside the 10 through each of the five practice sessions, but certainly felt that it was achievable. Unbelievably on the very first lap of the qualifying session Chaz Mostert had a sickening crash as he descended the mountain on his approach to Forest Elbow. His car was totally destroyed as he crashed from one wall to another and in the process clipping a steward’s tower of which the occupants jumped for their lives. The sight was certainly sickening in many ways. Of course your initial concerns are for everybody’s well being and when this is confirmed (minus a few broken bones and bruises, but everybody alive and “repairable”) your thoughts go to his Prodrive team who had worked hard like all of us and to now have a written off car and hospitalised driver really seems unfair. But, this is Motorsport and as safe as it is, it still is an extremely dangerous sport and unfortunately big accidents like this will happen occasionall y. As a result of this accident qualifying was abandoned and re-scheduled for Saturday.

We all took a deep breath back in the garage as moments like this really rock the entire establishment. As much as we all want to win and in most cases will go to the very limit to do so, when people are injured and cars destroyed it really makes everybody feel sick in the guts.

Saturday morning and one final practice session prior to the re-scheduled qualifying and Scotty found that little extra required and was 8th, David also improved to be 21st.

Qualifying and the skies had darkened and it certainly looked as though rain was imminent. The normal sequence of events with qualifying is to send the car out on worn tyres to warm everything up especially the brakes, return to the pit garage and put “green” tyres on (that is new tyres, they are still black!) return to the track and do a qualifying run. On this occasion with the weather closing in it was decided to go straight out on new tyres and warm the car up on the out lap then do a qualifying run which normally consists of two laps back to back. Thankfully we chose this way to go as rain came just as the boys completed their second flyer. Most did the same but a couple of teams were caught out. Scotty did a very good job to qualify 7th and David was 20th. Notable exceptions from the Top 10 were Winterbottom (14th) Lowndes (15th) and Tander (22nd). Coulthard continued his good form by claiming provisional pole. The Top 10 shootout was still to come .

The inclement weather continued throughout the day and the Porsche race was abandoned due to a heavy downpour. As the Top 10 approached it was obvious that it was going to be run on a wet track but with the rain stopping prior to the shootout it appeared that the early cars would be worse off.

Scotty was the 4th car on track and he was trying to beat the previous run by Dave Reynolds (Prodrive) who was currently leading the times. As much as Scott put together a faultless lap he had to deal with a track that again was getting slipperier because the rain. As it worked out the rain kept falling and each car had to deal with tougher conditions, the result for us was a front row start next to David Reynolds. This is taking nothing away from Scott and the boys, but of course there was some luck involved. I must give credit to all of the drivers who were involved in the shootout not one of them put a foot wrong in very testing conditions. We often forget exactly how brave and talented these drivers are.

Saturday night and our chef Blake prepared roast beef and vegetables that was as good as you would get anywhere. I slept well although I certainly was thinking of Sunday. I am a positive person and always do what I can do to try and influence in the best way possible how well we go, but there is only so much that you can do. My thoughts are then for all the guys and girls that work for me and as much as I like to do well I really feel for all of them if things don’t go as hoped.

Sunday morning and the atmosphere as you arrive at the track makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. I arrived at 6.00am and the buzz of the crowd that was lining the straight was fantastic. The morning warm up was complete and everything was set for what we hoped would be a good day.

I was extremely proud to see the Wilson Security Volvo S60 sitting on the front row at Bathurst. It was the first time a GRM car had been on the front row at a Bathurst 1000. The amount of people and activity on the grid before the race was incredible, but before you knew it the national anthem had been sung and the grid was being cleared for the start. The sight of the cars lined up ready to go at Bathurst and that dash to the first corner is one of the best in the world.

As the lights went out Canto (Reynolds’ co-driver) got the better start and Scotty settled safely in second. By lap 3 the Volvo was in front. Unfortunately after a solid start and holding his own David was let down by what appears to be an engine failure on lap 15.

Scotty continued to lead and was followed by Van Gisbergen (Tekno) and Coulthard (BJR). The first stops were triggered by a Safety Car when Renee Gracie hit the wall at the top of the mountain, which was a shame following the exceptional performance by both Renee and Swiss driver Simone De Silvestro.

Scotty handed over to Alex Premat while still in the lead, but Alex was soon caught by the Red Bull car of Whincup/Dumbrell and passed. The second round of stops occurred on lap 36 when the Super Black Ford of Heimgartner/Pedersen crashed at turn 1 and on lap 59 Premat handed the car back to McLaughlin. Unfortunately the stop was a little longer than planned as there was a problem with the brake pad change on the front left of the car. Scotty rejoined 13th but drove exceptionally well to hand back to Alex in 5th position on lap 80 when the 3rd Safety Car period came about as Blanchard crashed when he lost his boot lid and rear wing.

At this stage Alex had to drive through to at least lap 91 to complete his required minimum 54 laps as a co-driver. On lap 92 rain came and Scotty jumped back in for the run home and he certainly had a job ahead rejoining 10th. Scott and Van Gisbergen were the standouts during this wet period of the race and on lap 104 the guys called Scott in to go back on slicks. This turned out to be a very good call as many stayed on the wet tyres, but the track was drying although there were still sprinkles of rain and the chance of a further shower. As it turned out through Scott’s ability in the wet and the early call to get back on slicks Car#33 was in 3rd position and looking dangerous by lap 113. The second last stop was done on lap 125 and the final stop was at lap 138 when Scott Pye (DJR/Penske) broke a steering arm and crashed at McPhilamy Park. Sad for Scott, but perfect timing in regards to requiring fuel and tyres as on full tanks the cars can do 23-24 laps and there were 23 to go. Scotty rejoined 7th and on lap 142 briefly moved into 3rd as Reynolds overcooked it into turn 1 and Scotty was on the outside but ahead of Coulhard and Tander heading up Mountain Straight and into turn 2, a decision had to be made to either hang out there and take your chances or slip back into line and not risk being taken out. Scotty took the smart decision and dropped back into line as Tander out braked Coulthard to take third position. At the same time while in second Whincup was given a drive through penalty for passing the Safety Car. Lowndes now led and went onto win from Winterbottom (Prodrive) and Tander.

Overall plenty of ups and downs for us, we certainly went there to win and not to do so and also to have David and Chris (Pither) to only do 15 laps because of an engine issue is disappointing. But 5th in the Great Race is a very good effort and we will have to wait until next year to again try and repeat our 2000 success at the Bathurst 1000.

Regards

Garry

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits talkmotorsport.co.nz. He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!

https://talkmotorsport.co.nz

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