Race Report: Perth SuperSprint

The long haul over the Perth (Wanneroo) began last Saturday for our two Volvo FH16 Globetrotter trucks. Joey (Joe Sullivan) captained the main game transporter and Chuck (Andrew Pearson) was behind the wheel of the Super 2 transporter. 

One of the things I am most proud of at GRM is the longevity and loyalty of the staff and Andrew is our most recent employee and one of the few “part timers” that we employee. When you work at GRM it is common place to have a nickname and I know that “Joey” for Joe is a little lame, but he is one of the elder statesman in pit lane and certainly commands a respectful reference. But, Andrew “Chuck” already had a nickname when he arrived at GRM, but we had to fine tune it. Chuck lives in Bundaberg and has his own mechanical/auto electrical business and loves car racing. He has travelled the circuit on and off helping one of the “Aussie” race teams and approached us last year looking to have an involvement with a Supercar team. Chuck often goes fishing with Mason Barbera (GRM -Super 2 driver) in Bundaberg but suffers badly from sea sickness. Mason nicknamed Andrew, Spew and that is what all his mates in Bundaberg call him. I’m the first to endorse a good nickname but Spew was a little too graphic for me and hence we came up with “Chuck”.

Joey and Chuck arrived in Perth on Wednesday morning, cleaned the transporters and headed out to the Barbagello Circuit located one hours drive north of Perth in Wanneroo. The circuit was first opened in 1969 and is the second shortest circuit (2.423km) where we race, 20 metres longer than Symmons Plains.

The surface of the Barbagello track is extremely abrasive as much of Western Australia is built on sand and when the wind blows the sand blows across the race surface and over time this exposes the aggregate in the asphalt. The texture of the race track is very similar to that of an exposed aggregate pathway. This surface certainly has a major impact on the life and performance of the race tyres

The crew flew across to Perth on the Thursday morning and I was fortunate enough to be looking out of the window as the plane crossed the coast line at Esperance, what an amazing view with the contrasting colours of the ocean meeting the clifftop beach front. In recent years we have stayed in Hilarys, a coastal suburb north of Perth that overlooks the Indian Ocean and a 20-minute drive to Barbagello. 

The Perth round followed the Super Sprint format of 1x120km race on Saturday and 1x200km race on Sunday. Prior to this there were practice and qualifying sessions. The qualifying format was the elimination system that was first used in Tassie a couple of rounds ago. 

Following practice, the Top 10 cars are given a free pass to Q2, as the bottom 16 cars take part in Q1. Both Garth and Bieber had to take part in Q1 where the Top 6 advances to Q2 to join the previously sorted Top 10 and Q3 is then the Top 10 cars from the 16 that take part in Q2. Neither GT or Bieb’s could make it past Q1 and were 6 and 7/10ths off the pole time set by McLaughlin. In fact, the first four cars were Ford’s. To illustrate how precise that you need to be with qualifying the 888 cars of Van Gisbergen and Whincup were 12th and 14th and 4/10ths off the pole time

Starting from 20th and 22nd was certainly not ideal. The engineers consider all scenarios regarding pit stop windows and windows of opportunity with Safety Cars. Because of the abrasive nature of the circuit the drivers are driving more to a pre-determined lap time rather than racing each other. During practice the tyre engineers measure and calculate tyre wear and a lap time is determined that will enable the driver to get the best out of the tyre. Interestingly, the eventual winner Scotty McLaughlin set only the 7th fastest time of the race. Garth and James eventually finished about where they started, GT managing to improve one position to 19th and Bieb’s 22nd.

Saturday night and the usual debrief of the day’s activities and the obvious highlight that in the short 120km races qualifying speed is a must. As an old fashioned analogue man there was no point in me getting too involved when the engineers and drivers began dissecting the data. Certainly, when the chips are down you want to be involved at least for moral support. 

Back in the early 2000’s when we built and ran the Monaro’s I was contacted by a fellow from Western Australia who was so impressed by their performance that he wanted a similar engine for a car that he owned and drove daily. I thought he was joking, but one thing led to another and when we raced in Perth in 2004 (I think) Gypsy (Jeff Marshall – Engine builder) loaded an engine in the truck and to his word the buyer contacted me and came out to the track to pay and collect his engine. We have been friends ever since and on Saturday night it was great to catch up with him, and yes, he still owns and drives the car with the “big” engine. It was great to see you Mario!! (unusual name for a bloke with a big V8!!)

Sunday and the same qualifying format as the previous day. The first aim is to make the Top 10 in practice to earn the free pass to Q2. The track condition for practice had changed from Saturday with some early morning showers. As practice wound down in to the final minute some big names such as Mclaughlin, Lowndes, Winterbottom and Tander were outside the ten, as I watched the screen and order reshuffled as cars passed the start/finish line and the clock hit 0.00 a big cheer came from our garage, Bieb’s had put together three very good sectors and had made the Top10, well done Bieb’s. Unfortunately for GT he came across the DJR car of Coulthard on his out lap while halfway through his quick lap and had to abort the run but unfortunately the best of the tyre life was now gone.

The Supercar Championship is an incredibly competitive Motorsport competition. We have seen many very well credentialled local and International drivers try and make their mark with very little success. This year with 5 rookies it has been great to see in the first 5 rounds of the season they have all shown some promise and I was very happy for Bieber.

Bieber was unable to repeat his effort to bypass Q1 and did not get through Q2. In a complete reversal of Saturday, it was the 888 cars of Van Gisbergen and Whincup on the front row with Saturday’s pole sitter, McLaughlin in 19th. It was also a very good effort by Andre Heimgartner in the Nissan to be on the second row next to Chaz Mostert (Tickford). 

The 200km (83 lap) race required a minimum fuel drop of 120 litres. Again, the tyre degradation was the main discussion point leading in to the race. The race can be done on a minimum of two pit stops which would be three 25-30 lap stints. Of course, strategy changes if Safety Car periods unfold and that is exactly what happened on Sunday. 

Unfortunately, the SC was deployed because the #34 GRM car of Golding was stuck in the run off at turn 1 at the beginning of lap 4. This resulted in the field except for Will Davison (23 Red) pitting and ruined any chance of Bieber recording a reasonable result as he went down several laps. GT had started exceptionally well and as the cars regrouped behind the SC he was in 12th and by lap 20 had moved in to the top 10. 

Up front it was Mostert who led from Reynolds, but McLaughlin looked ominous in 7th after starting 19th. On lap 19 Van Gisbergen pitted as did GT on lap 20. We were now looking at a four-stop strategy. As the race unfolded and the final stops had all being completed (lap 66) GT was in 9th. McLaughlin had worked his way to the front and Lowndes who started next to GT at the back was up to 5th. GT exited pit lane after his final stop behind the Nissan of Simona De Silverstro who did an exceptional job of keeping a seasoned campaigner such as Garth at bay and in his endeavours to pass the edge went off GT’s tyres and he faded late to limp home in 14th. 

McLaughlin and his crew did an exceptional job to win from Reynolds and another very worthy effort from Lowndes and the 888 team to bring him home 3rd. 

To be perfectly honest this was a very disappointing weekend and the thing I am most disappointed about is I know the effort, hard work and incredibly positive attitude of all at GRM, but what I do know for certain is if we continue the hard work and continue with a good positive outlook on our work and are honest with each other then a result worthy of our input will come.

The GRM Super 2 team led by Swenno (David Swenson) continued the good form that was illustrated last round in Tasmania by Chris Pither winning. Again, Chris was quick from the outset and looked set for pole for Race 1 before the session was red flagged as he rounded the final bend with two purple sectors (quickest) and had to settle for 8th. Chris had a very solid race weekend and sits second in the Championship. Mason Barbera had his best qualifying and race weekend so far in Super 2 with a race best of 5thand finishing all three races in the top 10 which is a very good result for a second-year driver in a very competitive Championship.

Hurry up with the cars Joey, I can’t wait to get to Winton!

MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT    -           Seeing and hearing the happiness of the crew when Bieber cracked the Top 10 on Sunday.

MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT -    Landing last night in cold Melbourne!

Garry