Gold Coast 600 | Race Report

The Gold Coast 600 is without doubt one of our marquis events of the season and one that is hugely popular with the fans. I always try to spend time out and about with the fans and it amazes me how many I recognise who have travelled from down south to the sunny Gold Coast.

Joey headed off in the Volvo Globetrotter the previous Sunday and arrived on the GC Tuesday before having to unload in pit lane on Wednesday. It’s quite incredible the work and organisation that goes in to putting a street race circuit together and over the years this process has been fine tuned that it all takes place in days, not weeks. The pit lane is located on Main Beach Parade, adjacent to the famous Surfers Paradise beach and once Joey unloads the #33 and #34 cars and associated pit equipment he drives the truck down past Sea World to The Spit where all the trucks are parked for the weekend. The remainder of our spare parts are packed in two aluminium aeroplane containers and housed in a designated area in pit lane.

Barry and I left Melbourne on Wednesday as there were a couple of meetings that we had to attend in the days prior. Thankfully, I also had an hour or two to spare and returned to a finger nail shop that I found last year to have my nails done (I am a little weird!). I had great memories from last year as the lady played Gran Torino which had been dubbed with Chinese voice overs, but with English subtitles. Clint Eastwood speaking Chinese doesn’t seem quite right, but I was entertained for two hours. This year there was no DVD playing, but I did go the extra step and had my toe nails manicured along with my finger nails, I have never felt so good and my bent and twisted toe nails look incredible!

Wednesday evening and we had two icy cold pots at the Southport Yacht Club and enjoyed looking out over the harbour while contemplating the weekend ahead. As much as we have had a year that has been very trying at times I cannot be prouder of the continued effort and attitude of the GRM workforce. From the outside working for a Motor Racing team is much more glamorous than the reality and the real reward for those that participate in this industry is achieving a good result and I always believe that this is achievable.

Thursday, and the day is spent setting the garages up then putting the cars back on the set-up patch to check and adjust the pre-determined set up that the engineers have decided to start with in P1 on Friday. The cars are set-up prior to leaving the workshop but following the 2,000+ kms of travel in the transporter a final check is always undertaken prior to the weekend of racing. Following an afternoon meeting and the thought of the lively pots that we had had the previous afternoon Barry and I went in search of a cold beer. This time we found a Cuban bar in Surfers, and again were good boys only having two!

The weather to date had been clear and mostly sunny, yet very humid. The engineers spend nearly as much time on the BOM.COM looking at weather patterns as they do the race cars and there certainly were indications that we may see rain at some point over the weekend. Friday and three practice sessions scheduled. 

As the GC600 is the final race of the Endurance Cup one of these sessions (P2) is for co-drivers only. Unfortunately, Bieber got a little untidy through the beachside chicane on the back straight and ricocheted off the kerb into the outside wall and aback to the inside wall, with heavy damage to all four corners of the car. In the meantime, GT was beginning a green tyre run and had to abort due to the #34 being stranded on the track. Rick Kelly was fastest in the Nissan, but times were slow as the track had very little rubber down.

The crew waiting anxiously for the #34 to be returned on the tilt tray and immediately assessed the damage and as suspected from the vision it was substantial, yet there were no moans and groans only the screech of the Bosch Blue power tools as the boys led by Stiffy (Stefan Millard – Team Mgr) and Gypsy (Jeff Marshall – Engine guru and sledgehammer extraordinaire) allocated jobs to each available member of the crew while the #33 crew went about setting down the Tander/Pither car and preparing it for the co-driver session that was 2 hours away. The aim for the #34 boys was to have the car ready at some stage prior to Saturday, but as they dug in they believed that it may be possible to have it out some stage prior to the final practice at 5.00pm (5 hours away). Yet again I never cease to be amazed at the determination and never say die attitude of our group of workers as they pushed and pushed while working so incredibly well together to have the #34 ready to go just on 5.00 o’clock. Well done to all, I get goose pimples just thinking about your effort and achievements.

Following P3 the #33 and #34 were 21st and 22nd, but due to our focus on matters other than completing a full flying lap on green tyres we were confident that we were further advanced than that. Friday night and the boys tidied the cars up as they encounter many grazes due to the concrete walls that create a street surface. The drivers and engineers did their normal debrief and analysed the effects that changes to the car made during the sessions. For every change that is made to rectify a certain characteristic of the car has an opposing effect and it takes considered driver feedback and analysis to determine the ideal car set-up.

Friday night and dare I say it, a couple of beers at the Southport Surf Club and an enjoyable chat to a few locals and fans that had travelled to the GC for the Supercars. Over the years I have found listening to and talking to these people alerts you to the good and bad aspects of Supercars. Of course, the good ones make you feel “great”, but it’s the things done poorly that I am most interested in and there is no doubt that the landscape in which we operate is a lot different to even 10 years ago.

I know that there are many traditionalists out there and at my age I’m also one. Tradition is vital in the world, but so too is evolution. I see Bathurst as our tradition and I would not want to change a thing about it. The build up over the week with the 6 practice sessions climaxing with the Top 10 shootout on Saturday afternoon is riveting but, only the pre-show for the 161 laps, 1000kms of racing that follows. I believe that evolution should see our racing time slots change. We need to be racing later in the days and on days when people watch television. I know that this can have an impact on live audiences at certain events, but I am a firm believer that early evening/night racing particularly at Sprint events is a big part of our future. 

Qualifying for the first 300 km race (race 26 of the Championship) saw considerable improvement lap time wise, but very little in grid position. Van Gisbergen was fastest and 3/10ths clear of Whincup in 2nd. So dominant was Van Gisbergen that the 3/10ths gap between 1st and 2nd was the same as 2nd to 11th with GT 2/10ths further back in 19th and Bieber in 21st.

The 102 lap (300km) race required that the co-driver do a minimum of 34 laps. Unfortunately, Richard Muscat had spent only a handful of laps in the car during P1 and P3 and was unable to take part in P2 as the #34 was being repaired. There are no rules as to who starts driving and the conservative approach is to start the co-driver and get their 34-lap stint complete allowing the primary driver to complete the final 68 laps. Much of the strategy can change with Safety Cars and again the important numbers are that each driver must do a minimum of 34 laps and a full tank of fuel achieves 44 racing laps. The starting point is 102 laps less 44, meaning the earliest that you pit for home is lap 58 and from that number if you take another 34 off you get to lap 24 which means that if a SC period occurs while the co-driver is in the car and it is between lap 24 and 34 then you need to utilise this opportunity to take fuel on as it is always a time saver rather than pitting under green flag conditions.

As the field lined up Lowndes was the only primary driver to take a punt and as he had qualified back in 20th after a grid penalty for impeding Stanaway in qualifying. Off the front is was Premat (DJR Penske -McLaughlin) who led from Dumbrell (888 -Whincup), with Pither 17th and Muscat 22nd. 

Lap 23 and a SC which was just in the window of pitting and then requiring one more stop for home, but the co-drivers had to stay in as they had only completed 23 laps. This worked in to the hands of Lowndes who had been carving his way through an unresponsive field of co-drivers and was able to hand over top Steve Richards in 7th position. 

As the race went green again on lap 25 Dalberto (DJR Penske – Coulthard) led and both 888 cars (Whincup and Van Gisbergen cars) were issued drive through penalties for pit lane infringements during the rush of stops under the SC. To be totally honest the racing was very much follow the leader as the co-drivers were trying to get to the next stops and hand the cars to the primary drivers in good order. Pither was 12th when he stopped, and GT jumped in on lap 58 and by the time others stopped over the next several laps GT was inside the top 10. Richard Muscat had worked his way up to 18th and pitted on lap 60. 

Mostert (Tickford) had taken over the lead following a very good stint by Moffat and they had built a several second lead over Courtney/Perkins (WAU) and Lowndes/Richards had cemented themselves in 3rd following the early gains of Lowndes. The race ran green until the end, although on lap 80 the #34 (Golding/Muscat) can sheared bolts on the upper right front suspension arm that resulted in them finishing several laps down and in 24th.

Tander/Pither although not completely satisfied did a very good job to finish 9th and continued a run of top tens in all the Endurance races to date. The race was won by Mostert/Moffat from Cortney/Perkins and Lowndes/Richards.

There is always quite a bit of work for the crew following a race on the streets of Surfers. Although neither car was involved in any major incidents, the cars always return with battle scars caused by either rubbing up against other cars in the tight tunnel like track or against the concrete walls. As much as I would love to be able to help the Team with these jobs I can hardly bend low enough to check tyre pressures let alone get under a car and Barry is worse and doesn’t struggles to distinguish a spanner from a screw driver! As a result, we returned to the surf club for two pots!

Sunday, and the skies showed signs of potential rain. Unfortunately, in a built-up area like Surfers there are no horses I could inspect to see which way they were facing, a much more accurate predictor of rain than BOM.COM. 

Qualifying came and went without rain and GT improved from Saturday qualifying 15th yet only 4/100ths outside the top 10. Bieb’s also improved and was 19th. Following the shootout, it was Reynolds who won pole with a tremendous lap after qualifying 8th with McLaughlin in second.

As the race approached so did the dark threatening clouds. There were reports of large hail and heavy rain from the television crew who had sent the chopper out to look at the weather coming from the west. During the pre-race the atmosphere on the grid was tremendous with a huge crowd of people milling around the cars and as the National anthem was sung followed by the roar of the fighter jet it only seemed a matter of minutes before the skies would open up. Engineers debated as to whether it was worthwhile starting on wet tyres, although no rain had yet fallen. If this gamble was taken the benefit would be that you would not need to pit when the rain came, but if it stayed dry for any longer than 5-6 laps the time lost on the track as a result of having to drive conservatively to preserve the wet tyres that deteriorate quickly if driven hard on a dry track would be greater than the time spent pitting and changing tyres. It was decided not to take the risk and along with the entire field we started on slick tyres.

The rain certainly came, and it was probably 30 minutes after the best predictions. But when it came it didn’t let us down and it absolutely poured down. The first spits of rain began on lap 22 and by lap 30 it was so heavy that the entire field had pitted. On lap 29 Dumbrell (888-Whincup) slid into the wall on turn 13 that caused a Safety Car. 

The race never restarted although an attempt was made after several laps behind the SC and on lap 41 with the #34 in 4th and the #33 in 11th the race was abandoned, and no points issued. This was the correct decision as it was incredibly unsafe with lightening strikes in the vicinity and with rain pouring down and unable to escape quickly enough to the drains as the concrete barriers slowed the flow of water from the track. 

To all the fans that were drowned and probably a little disappointed that the race was unable to be restarted, thank you for having such a wonderful attitude in atrocious conditions. I was certainly buoyed by the jovial nature of people as they left the track looking like drowned rats and certainly felt for the ladies who were delightfully dressed, yet now soaked to the bone.

I can’t wait for Pukekohe (NZ) in two weeks!

MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT      -           Following my finger nails being manicured I had my feet massaged and toe nails manicured. I was impressed by the lady’s strength when massaging my feet, so I asked, “would mind rubbing my shoulders?” I received a very swift and stern “NO!”. I think the lady thought I was bit weird!

MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT                -           I went for an early walk on the beach on Saturday morning and saw Gypsy (Jeff Marshall – Engine guru) appear out of the froth of a wave as he had body surfed to shore and stood with his little speedos on. I think he was excited!