Clipsal 500 Race Report

Off we go again! What an off season we had at GRM. Following Volvo’s decision to exit Supercars following the 2016 season and my inability to secure an arrangement for the supply of Volvo engines we had to make a very late decision in December to build two brand new Commodores so as we could be on the grid for the 2017 Supercar season. All of the girls and boys at GRM rallied and did an incredible job to have these cars completed only days before the pre season test on the 21st February. It is very important to acknowledge the sponsor group that were very patient and supportive to GRM following the completion of the 2016 season. With the potential uncertainty that surrounded our plans the Wilson Group, PAYCE, Valvoline and Volvo Trucks stood firm by our side and supported us both financially and personally so as we could get on with the business and Motor Racing.

I am really pleased to have Garth Tander back driving for GRM after previously beginning his Supercar career with our team in 1998 (1998-2004). Garth certainly brings a lot of experience with him and certainly his knowledge of the VF Holden will help, but so too will his general experience and knowledge be a very positive influence on the younger members of our team.

Moff will again drive the #34 car and as much as it is Moff’s third different car over the past 3 seasons it is the first time in four years that we have had the same driver in the #34 for two consecutive seasons so I am keen to see the rewards of this.

As much as we had raced the VF COTF Commodore during the 2013 season there had been a re-homologation to the aero package of the car at the beginning of the 2015 season. Over the past three seasons our engineering group had developed a package that work well with the Volvo and that was our starting point in regards to car set up with the Holden. What we immediately identified was that what worked with the Volvo did not react in the same manner with the Holden.

Following the pre season test in Sydney and with only 3 days to work on the cars before they had to be loaded in the transporter for Adelaide the engineers and mechanics made some significant changes to the car set up. Arriving in Adelaide and from the first practice session the feedback from both Moff and GT was they felt a definite improvement in the behaviour of the car, but of course there were still areas that they were not 100% comfortable with. I know it is obvious but to get the very best out of a driver and in return the race car, the driver must be totally committed and it is nearly impossible to have that level of commitment if there is something in the behaviour of the car that makes the driver nervous. Both Krusty (Richard Hollway) and Lewis (Manuel Sanchez) the engineers of #33 and #34 work tirelessly with their driver to constantly improve the behaviour of the car.

The Adelaide season opener is certainly one of my favourite events on the Supercar calendar. Over the years we have enjoyed some wonderful results and one those was Garth’s race win in 2000 and in more recent years Scotty’s battle with Whincup in 2014. It’s amazing how quickly the years roll on and I am delighted that I am still here having fun and being able to enjoy these experiences.

Joey (Joe Sullivan – Transporter Driver) arrived into Adelaide on Tuesday, washed the Globetrotter FH16 700 and was parked up ready for the majority of the team that arrived on Wednesday. The initial stages of a race weekend require the crew to unpack the trailers and set up the pit garage. This weekend we were also racing our two Super2 cars with Richard Muscat in the #44 car for a second consecutive season and we welcomed 19 year old rookie, Mason Barbera. Mason competed in the Ute series last year and I was impressed by the manner in which he approached his racing and we certainly look forward to seeing how we can develop Mason further as a Supercar driver.

The Clipsal 500 comprises 2 x 250km races. Prior to this there is a qualifying session and top 10 shootout for each of the races. Friday began with 2 x 40 minute practice sessions. These sessions are vital in setting the car up for the weekend ahead. The drivers and engineers work hard on finding a set up that provides the very best that they can find in the car in qualifying and often this set up can be quite different to the set up that they settle on for the race. When it comes to race set up the engineers are looking for a balance between speed versus tyre wear. There is no point having a car that is a “jet” for 10 laps but then burns the tyres up that the car is terribly slow for the remainder of a stint. Following practice Moff was 14th and Garth 19th.

Krusty and Garth were not particularly happy with the car and further changes were made prior to qualifying. This seemed to work as Garth was a second off the top practice time and following qualifying was only 4/10ths off pole set by Van Gisbergen who pipped our old mate Scotty Mac by a mere 1/10,000th of a second. It appears the competiveness of Supercar racing has taken another step forward this year with the 4/10th margin from VanGisbergen to Tander equating to 15 grid positions. Last year pole to 15th was nearly 8/10ths! Moff replicated his practice time and was 6/10ths off pole and in 19th position.

Saturday and the Adelaide weather was hot and sunny. This is certainly one event of the year where the drivers count on the cooling aids within a Supercar. The drivers wear a cool suit which is a fireproof top with veins running through it. This is worn under their race suit and cool water is pumped into the veins of the top from a box full of dry ice which cools the water. The driver also has an inlet on the top of their helmet where they plug a hose in that pumps cool air from the cool box into their helmets. For hydration they have a drink bottle that via a button on the steering wheel pumps water through a straw that is inserted under their helmet.

Of course we race to win and that is our aim each time we arrive at a race meeting. The day that this is not my aim or the day that I see that this totally unachievable is the day I’ll give this away. Thankfully because of the quality people that work for GRM I honestly believe that we can always compete.

Race 1 of the 2017 Championship and from pole Van Gisbergen was beaten to turn 1 by Coulthard (DJR Penske) who led to lap 16 when he pitted. By this stage Moff had been doing some excellent work in the mid pack and had moved from 19th to 11th in the first 10 laps with Tander right behind in 12th.

The race required that each car pit a minimum of two times and during these stops the cars must have a minimum of 140 litres of fuel filled into the car. The fuel flows at approximately 4 litres per second which equates to a stationary time of 35 seconds over the two stops. Depending on track position the engineers may decide to add more or less fuel in at the first stop and the balance at the second. What the engineers look for is how much fuel can they get in that will get back out on the track and in a good position in regard to track position. For example if they see that 17 seconds of fuel will bring the car back on the track behind a group of cars that have previously stopped and are on older tyres, but are likely to hold the driver up they may choose to add 28 seconds of fuel so you enter the track well back from the cars ahead and can race in clean air for much of the stint ahead and at the second stop when only 7 seconds of fuel is required it is likely that the driver will pass all of the cars that were previously in front. There are so many variables with the fuel drop and the deployment of Safety Cars at particular time during a race can also impact on these decisions.

Both Moff and Garth raced without incident which is often hard to avoid when you are racing amongst that group from 8th to 15th. Moff went on to finish 10th and Garth 12th.

As mentioned earlier we certainly don’t race to finish 10th or 12th, and I don’t like to say that there is a good 10th or 12th, but I will!

The race was won by Van Gisbergen (888) in a dominant display from Coulthard (DJR) and Courtney (WR).

Saturday night and Volvo Trucks had some loyal Volvo truck owners and staff whom had come to Adelaide for the event. Barry and I spent a couple of hours at dinner time with the group and I know that I have mentioned it before, but the stories that some of these people have are motivational and illustrate to me that if you just keep at it you will get somewhere and that somewhere maybe from Melbourne to Sydney along the Hume or it may be from a small one truck operation to a fleet of Volvo prime movers.

Sunday morning and it is straight into qualifying. The weather yet again was sunny, but thankfully a quite a bit cooler with a top of 26 degrees. Each car had three sets of tyres for the days qualifying and racing. The plan was that both cars would go out on the best four tyres from yesterday’s racing and complete an out lap, one flying lap and an in lap.

Following this a green (new) set of tyres would go on the car where the driver would replicate the earlier procedure, but with two flying laps. A second set of green tyres would then be fitted and the procedure repeated. The engineers guide the driver to find clear track, in that there are sensible spaces between them and the cars in front so as they are not held up or distracted when completing their qualifying lap. Moff from the beginning showed good pace sitting around 6-8th through the first two runs and still holding that position until the dying seconds of the final run until he was nudged out by 8/100ths of a second and back to 14th. On the other hand Garth was midfield (13-16th) for the entire qualifying session and was one of the final few cars yet to fully complete their last flying lap.

Garth put everything into it and as the clock clicked to zero he whizzed past the line and jumped 5 places into 10th. There were screams of excitement (by the ladies) in our garage. Sure, we were not unaccustomed to being in the Top 10, as both Scott and Moff had regularly done this between them last year and Scott throughout his 4 years with us. But, considering the circumstances of this year it certainly meant much more than 10th position on the grid.

The Top 10 Shootouts are always very interesting and the two hardest positions to be in are at either end of the shootout. Being 10th, Garth was the first car out. Prior to Garth’s lap the track had been used by display cars and trucks that leave loose rubber and other debris on the race surface. The temperature has warmed up and the track is totally different to the one that was used for qualifying earlier in the morning. As the first car out Garth has to set the yardstick for the others to follow and it is difficult in that if Garth goes beyond the limits of the traction that the track offers and spins off he has ruined an opportunity to improve his position at best and at worst could crash the car. If Garth is too conservative the time he sets won’t help improve his position. The time he set was nearly a second slower than his earlier qualifying time and the following few cars were similar. By the end of the shootout Tander had picked up two positions and Van Gisbergen yet again showed his incredible skill and nerve to be the last man out and pip the two Penske cars for pole.

The pre race build up on the Sunday Clipsal race is not unlike the excitement prior to Bathurst. The grid has people everywhere and the colour and activity is fantastic. The usual deafening fly over happens, which you would think I would be used by now, but it still frightens the life out of me.

Race 2 of the Championship and again Coulthard jumped Van Gisbergen off the line and this time he was followed by his teammate and our mate Scotty McLaughlin. Both GT and Moff had excellent starts with Garth in 7th and Moff 12th. The pit stops began earlier than yesterday with the first cars coming in at lap 5. We pitted Moff on lap 13 and ran Garth long with the aim of putting much of the 140 litres of fuel in at his first stop, with the balance later in the race. Garth was in the lead as others had pitted earlier and Krusty called him in on lap 23. Garth came out of the pits just ahead of Moff, but on much fresher tyres.

Unfortunately for Garth he caught the group of Davison (Tekno), Whincup and Lowndes much quicker than anticipated as they raced amongst each other. This put pay to the strategy of Garth picking up track time and later with a shorter stop landing well inside the ten. Following the final stop for Moff’s final stop on lap 42 he rejoined the race in 21st position but soon worked his way forward coming home in 16th. Garth made his final stop on lap 46 while in 11th position and rejoined in 12th, but was being hotly pursued by Todd Kelly and Lowndes. Garth was doing a great job holding off Kelly, until he made a dive and Garth covered well, but was tagged in the right rear. The result was a bent rear suspension arm, but he continued to defend but both got passed. Garth went on to finish 11th.

Our Super2 boys had a mixed weekend. Young Mason Barbera performed very well in his first ever outing in a Supercar, with a ninth place finish in the Saturday race and very solid results in the other two races. The feature of Mason’s debut was ability to race amongst some much more experienced campaigners without locking a brake or putting a scratch on the car.

Unfortunately for Richard Muscat a weekend that showed much early promise with him being in the top 3 or 4 fastest cars, turned sour when an electrical issue derailed his race weekend. Richard finished 6th in the first race after coming back from a start where he dropped back to 15th. Richard’s drive in that race was calculated and controlled; unfortunately he was unable to show his true promise over the entire weekend because of the electrical issue with the #44.

Overall, I come back from Adelaide buoyed by our performance. Sure we didn’t have the pace of the front group led by Van Gisbergen, but we certainly have a very solid platform to work from. In this year’s reports I am going to give a weekend highlight and lowlight in regards to the GRM performance.

Round 1 Clipsal 500

MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT: The death knock timing of Garth Tander’s qualifying performance on Sunday.

MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT:  Letting the Meerkat (Richard Muscat) down.        


Regards

Garry