RACE REPORT Auckland SuperSprint

With the short turnaround from the Gold Coast to New Zealand it was a positive that we returned from Queensland with straight cars. Heading to New Zealand is quite an extensive logistical exercise and credit to Gibson Freight who put in place the process and infrastructure for this to occur smoothly.

Apart from servicing the cars, the crew must pack two aluminium air freight containers which have weight and capacity limitations which means choosing wisely what you expect will be required over the weekend. The cars and containers were airfreighted from Avalon (near Geelong) on Wednesday and our crew flew over the same day and prepared the garages on Thursday.

The drive to Pukekohe from Auckland is approximately 50 kilometres and I really enjoy taking the first turn off (Drury-Pukekohe exit) in to Pukekohe as the final 10 or so kilometres are spent meandering through the picturesque New Zealand countryside that have a real English feel with quaint little cottages and farm paddocks separated by hedges.

For the first time this year we stayed in Manukau which is halfway between Auckland and Pukekohe as the motel that we previously stayed in is now been transformed in to an Aldi supermarket.

The Auckland event comprises 2x200 km. races or 70 laps of the fast 2.9km circuit. The Pukekohe race circuit has 11 corners and is mainly fast and free flowing yet does provide for good side by side racing and overtaking opportunities. The circuit is like Sandown in Melbourne in that it is built around a horse racing track. Real homes for horsepower!

Barry and I arrived on Thursday afternoon and by the time we left the airport and started heading to Pukey it was nearing 4.00pm. We had to make an executive decision, “do we continue on, only to arrive as the boys and girls will be finishing set up?” or “do we go the hotel, tidy up and make sure that the NZ beer still tastes ok?”. Together we decided that if I went for a walk and Barry for a run then checking the beer out would be the wise decision to make. I stepped out of the door and couldn’t believe how well I was walking, but soon realised that I was walking with the wind which was blowing a gale, when I turned to head home it started blowing me backwards and I had to fight tooth and nail to get myself back to the hotel, I was exhausted! I wondered if this was karma due to our decision, but I couldn’t wait for the beer!

Friday and two practice sessions were scheduled and the weather was fine, yet there were some concerns of rain over the weekend. By the end of practice Garth and James were not particularly satisfied with the speed that they could extract from their cars and were 6-7/10ths off the lead time of Jamie Whincup (888). Saturday and things did not improve with regards to our one lap speed and Garth qualified 20th and James 24th. McLaughlin (DJR Penske) led the way. There is no doubt that qualifying has been a bugbear for us throughout the season, the saving grace has been our race speed but of course a worthy result is always difficult and has risk attached when starting in the bottom 1/3rd of the grid. Garth certainly discovered this when he came into contact with Simona DeSilvestro in the opening laps and bent a steering arm resulting in an unscheduled pit stop and loss of several laps while the arm was replaced. Bieber had kept himself clean and when the Safety Car was deployed on lap 7 he was 19th and exited pit lane after a very good stop 15th. As the race restarted it was Courtney (WAU) leading from McLaughlin and Van Gisbergen. Courtney had stopped on lap 1 and benefited during the SC period by not having to stop and going to the lead. The downside was the tyres on the #25 would struggle as the stint extended. Van Gisbergen passed McLaughlin and eventually past Courtney to the lead on lap 35. Bieber had now advanced to 14th racing behind the veteran, Lowndes.

The second and final compulsory stops were kicked off early by McLaughlin on lap 31 and Van Gisbergen stayed out until lap 46, this allowed McLaughlin to take the lead, but was unable to hang on as his tyres were gone by the time Van Gisbergen was in his mirrors an on lap 59 the #97 went to the lead. Bieber stayed out of trouble and did a very solid job to finish in the Top 15 and came home 14th. GT was 10 laps down in 25th. Certainly, a disappointing day results wise, but again there were some positives and again it was our race pace with the #33 setting top 10 times throughout the race.

Saturday night and as much as I hadn’t really done too much during the day, I was exhausted. We had a quick beer at the hotel bar, enjoyed a chat with a few enthusiastic local fans and before bed, Barry ran down to the local service station to buy a block of chocolate which we ate while lying in bed (separate beds!) and having a sip of the Jamo’s (Jamieson Irish Whisky).

Sunday and I woke up flying, it must have been the chocolate! Qualifying and although we closed the time difference to the fastest car (Reynolds) we were shuffled back further with the #33 in 23rd and the #34 24th. Again, small time margins equate to huge positional penalties, 2/10ths = 10 grid positions.

Off the start Whincup led from McLaughlin before pitting on lap 5. From here Scotty took control of the race although through the pit stop sequences often lost the track lead. GT and Bieber started well both making up positions lap after lap during the opening stages. As the first round of stops ended and the race settled GT was 17th and Bieb’s 21st. As per the previous day the race required a minimum of two pit stops where tyres and fuel must be changed and added. The fuel that must be added is 120 litres and the stationary time over the two stops for this to be completed is approximately 30 seconds. The second round of stops began around lap 30 and this time the lead car of McLaughlin stayed out longer, stopping on lap 38. This left Van Gisbergen in front as he was the last car to stop as he tried to make up for a pit stop mishap from the previous stop that cost him approx. 10seconds.

As the final 25 laps began, Van Gisbergen stopped and McLaughlin took back the lead, never to be headed. Tander had again shown his race craft and dogged approach by working his way to 13th. Bieber also was doing reasonably well in 18th but with 9 laps to go after following the Nissan of DeSilvestro for 20 laps finally came unstuck and slipped back a couple of positions. On the final lap as Scotty led from Whincup, Van Gisbergen had driven an inspired stint to work his way to 3rd and as he approached the finish line Whincup waited and let him past. The result was a reverse of Saturday with McLaughlin from Van Gisbergan and a 14 point Championship lead for Scotty.

Many ask what you think of teammates letting each other past. Well, I have always liked to let my drivers race, but they are teammates and if one can help the other which in turn is a positive for the entire team, then I do understand and accept why one driver would let another past. I would like to think that true teammates would do this naturally and wouldn’t need to be told.

Before I go, I would like to really congratulate the New Zealand fans. As a Team that doesn’t have a New Zealand driver but certainly enjoyed those years when Scotty drove for us I thank you all very much for the amount of support that you offer GRM, it makes me really proud to have such wonderful support from people from another country. Thank you and well done on a tremendous crowd which exceeded 100,000 over the 3 days.

I can’t wait for Newcastle!

MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT    -           the chocky and Jamo’s in bed

MOMENT OF DISPPOINTMENT -      waking up and realising it wasn’t melted chocolate on my bed sheets (only joking!!)