RACE REPORT Newcastle

 

I was very much looking forward to returning to Newcastle following the 2017 event. Newcastle is a beautiful city and one that is not often thought of when planning holidays, but I would highly recommend that if you haven’t been to this city that you should make the effort.

The street circuit location is tremendous with the Australian coastline and the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean running alongside the track as the cars descend from the highest point on the circuit at turn 3 through the staircase section of the track through turns 6, 7, 8 and 9 and eventually on to the main straight through turn 12.

Our Supercar season has certainly been a tough one. We have shown glimpses of form throughout the year but have consistently struggled to find the one-lap speed required to qualify well. The Newcastle round was also the final round for the Dunlop Super 2 Championship and Chris Pither held a very narrow lead following his Bathurst podium.

Joey left in the transporter from Dandenong South on the Monday evening and the travel crew arrived Wednesday to assist Joe in unloading the cars and setting up the garages. Barry and I flew up on Thursday and were greeted by the same taxi driver that we met in 2017, Mac. We are very fortunate throughout our travels to meet so many people, and Mac is a very passionate local after marrying an Australian and moving from California. His exciting and exuberant personality is equally matched by his driving style and we thankful when we arrived at the track safely. Thanks Mac!

Thursday afternoon and as the drivers and engineers walked the track and Barry ran, I spent the time chatting to a few of the workers who were still putting the track together and taking in what a wonderful place, this was. Thursday evening and Sally, James, Garth, Barry and I went to a Valvoline function at the Dockyard Hotel. In our travels we do many meets and greets, and I really enjoy listening to people’s stories as much as they enjoy hearing about the inner workings of a Supercar Team. As I am a very sensible person, I sent Sally, GT and Bieber home to bed at 7.00pm while Barry and I did the right thing keeping the sponsors and their customers entertained well into the evening.

Friday morning and we headed to track at 7.30. As much as the day was clear and sunny the wind was blowing a gale and my old frail body was having trouble staying upright as the gusts tore past. As usual, Dom the best chef in pit lane had prepared a magnificent breakfast including porridge, bircher muesli and fresh fruit. We are very lucky to have Dom and he spoilt the crew with roast lamb and veggies that evening. Unfortunately, Barry and I missed out as we had other commitments and had to settle for a take away pizza, I wasn’t happy!

The practice times on Friday were slower than last year and the consensus was because of the high winds. Scotty Mac (DJR Penske) began his quest well to win his first Championship as he was quickest, GT was 19th (6/10ths off) and Bieb’s a further 3/10ths back.

With regards to Scotty I am often asked do I want him to win. The simple answer is yes. Scott did a tremendous job for my Team and that wasn’t just on the race track, he completed his fabrication apprenticeship with us and was a great asset in the fab shop. I have a lot of respect for him first and foremost as a person.

Saturday wasn’t a day to remember as Race 30 of the Championship did not begin or end well for either of our cars. Both Bieb’s and GT struggled in qualifying and started from 21st and 23rd. Bieb’s race was all but over on lap 1 when a collision with the driver side door caused it to open which resulted in a mechanical black flag and a requirement to enter the pits to have the issue rectified. Unfortunately, taping the door closed only worked for a few laps and the issue returned. The result was the #34 went down several laps and finished 20th. As much as GT struggled in qualifying, he again showed what a racer he was and by the time the second round of pit stops came on lap 42 as a result of a Safety Car he had moved in to the top 10 and looked like he was advancing further. This promise soon dissipated as on the restart the #33 contacted LeBrocq (Tekno) car and bent a steering arm, resulting in several laps being lost while the repairs were completed.

The race out front was quite enthralling with the two title contenders, McLaughlin and Van Gisbergen going toe to toe. Van Gisbergen led early before Scotty gained the ascendancy following the SC period, but on the final lap with only a few hundred metres to go ran out of fuel and Van Gisbergen won as Scotty rolled over the line in 2nd. Yet, there was more controversary with footage showing that the fuel refueller was still in the car when Van Gisbergen was dropped to the ground during a stop. The result was a 25 second penalty, handing the win to Scotty and a handy 50+ points lead going into Sunday. At times fans can be confused by penalties handed down and a common question in the Van Gisbergen incident was “why it wasn’t a Team penalty, ie. $$ and/or team points because it was a team wrongdoing, not the driver?”. Well, the reason was because the driver is seen as gaining an unfair sporting advantage of having fuel added to the car while it was on the ground which of course saves time. Personally, I felt for Van Gisbergen because the indiscretion resulted in a millisecond of an advantage.

Saturday was disappointing but there were also positives to work on and Stiffy (Stefan Millard – Team Manager) led the way in having a positive attitude and by Sunday we were ready to go again.

From the very start of qualifying GT was on the pace and with a Top 10 shootout following qualifying the time sheets were being watched closely. As it turned out Garth was 3/10ths off pole and scraped into the 10 by 2/100ths of a second. There was a real buzz in the garage and it was wonderful to see the smiles on all our mechanics, engineers, promotional staff and sponsors. Our sport requires a team effort, but it is the driver who must kick the final goal and it was great to see the way GT lifted the spirits of everybody. Qualifying improved further following the shootout as GT continued his form by doing an exceptional shootout lap and qualified 4th. Dave Reynolds (Erebus) had pole sharing the front row with Scotty.

The final race of the year was upon us and Championship wise Scotty was in the box seat yet still had to get the job done. He did it in style and although Reynolds led to the first round of stops, Scotty led most of the race and only handed up to Dave in the closing laps as the Erebus car applied pressure from behind.

GT was third off the line but a desperate Van Gisbergen made a demon move as the cars descended through the staircase section of the track at turn 7 and forced his way up the inside. The #33 took on more fuel (approx. 8seconds more) than those it was racing at the first stop and GT went from 4th to 8th, but with the extra fuel on board would be in the box seat following the second stop and the run home. Unfortunately, on lap 37 GT locked up in to turn 1 and went down the escape road losing 8 places and going back to 16th. Over the next 50 laps Garth and the crew led by Krusty (Richard Hollway – Engineer #33) did a very good job to get back inside the top 10 and GT finished 8th.

Bieb’s weekend did not get any better with a first lap coming together with LeBrocq resulting in a bent steering arm and he was straight into the pits. The positive was that the #34 race pace throughout the race, although down several laps was like that of the top 10 cars and certainly something for Bieb’s to take into 2019.

I was delighted to see Scotty win the Championship, it was a proud moment for me and my crew that worked him throughout his time at GRM.

The highlight of the weekend was the performance of our Super 2 crew. Mason Barbera qualified and raced inside the top 10 all weekend and showed exceptional pace, well done Mase! Chris Pither was exceptional, he entered the final round with a narrow points lead over Paul Dumbrell and although he had never raced at Newcastle, he did a tremendous job along with Stiffy, Swenno and the DVS crew to put the car on pole both days and have a 2nd and 1st race finish and become the 2018 Dunlop Super2 Champion. I was so happy for Chris as he is a true racer who has done the very hard yards from driving race transporters, working several jobs and so on to live his dream of racing cars. He comes from a wonderful family who share his desire of racing and although they may not have the financial resources to assist his racing career as it advanced past go-carts, they have been tremendous support to him as have been many of his friends. It was certainly a win for the good guys!

Finally, after four years of supporting GRM and 11 years as a Motor Racing sponsor Wilson Security have ended their relationship. I would like to acknowledge their contribution to all of those people and Teams who they have assisted during this time and we welcome all Wilson staff and customers to our garage at any time in the future.

To Valvoline your continued support is the backbone of GRM and the reliability of our cars has much to do with lubricants we use, thank you.

To my staff, your committed style, attitude, sense of humour and ability is something I am very proud of. Through a tough year you have all held your head high, got on with the job and presented GRM in a first-class manner.

Finally, to you our fans that take the time to read my reports, thank you. It is the excitement that you guys bring to a race track that makes us do what we do.

To everybody, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I can’t wait for Adelaide!

Garry

MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT – missing out on the lamb roast on Friday night.
MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT – The smile on Chris Pither’s face and all the crew following his Championship win.

 

Weekend Wrap

Super2 Weekend Wrap