Phillip Island Race Report

Phillip Island is one of the world’s best permanent race tracks and is a place that requires huge commitment from the drivers especially through turn 1 where the cars are travelling at 280kmh and the long sweeping final turn through corners 11 to 12 where the cars change into 5th gear and push past 200kmh on the exit. The Phillip Island circuit is the one race circuit where you cannot “hide”, the facts are that if your car is not in the so called sweet spot it is very difficult for the driver to commit to the level that is required to produce a competitive lap.

I know that we have often referred to the past 3 years of the Volvo and the information that we gathered during that time. The Volvo was very efficient at fast flowing, high speed circuits such as Phillip Island and the Engineers had developed a set up in regards to ride height, roll centre and level of stiffness that put the Volvo in the “sweet spot”. The aero effect on the Holden is quite different to the Volvo and as much as we have raced at three previous locations this year and learnt much about the set up required to maximise the performance of the Holden, we were unable to find that window that worked in regards to sheer speed during Friday practice and even with much time and effort Friday evening there was little improvement when it came to Saturday qualifying.

Following practice Moff and Garth were placed 19th and 20th, but probably the more concerning point was that we were over 1.3 seconds off the leading DJR Penske Ford’s. Following qualifying we had decreased the margin to the again leading DJR Penske cars by 3/10ths, but were back in 16th (Moff) and 20th (Tander).

A qualifying performance such as this at a traditional sprint round circuit such as Symmons, Winton or Barbagello would most definitely result in a similar finishing position. But, as much as we could not find the speed necessary to qualify well, both the Engineers and drivers were reasonably satisfied with the anticipated race speed and subsequent tyre wear and with a 250kmh race ahead there was ample opportunity to utilise these strengths and work our way through the field. It was quite obvious that following practice that tyre degradation and failures were going to impact the racing.

As mentioned in previous reports the Dunlop tyre is of a slightly different construction than in previous years and there is more rubber (approx 18mm) on the tyre face that contacts the road surface. In very simple terms to make a car fast you want as little rubber as possible touching the track on the straights, but as much as possible through the corners. To achieve this both the camber and castor angles of the wheels are manipulated. It is the camber angle that has the greatest impact on achieving this result. The camber is the angle of the wheel that you can see if you look at the car front on. On a traditional road car this angle to the naked eye appears to be about 90 deg. On a race car the camber is adjusted where the top of the wheel “leans in” to the car and at the bottom when the car is sitting stationery the outside edge of the tyre is off the ground, so basically when driven in a straight line the car is running on the inside edge of the tyre, but when loaded up when cornering the tyre squares off and makes full contact with the road surface. This type of camber adjustment is also repeated on the rear wheels. The more aggressive that you are with this set up usually equates to a quicker car, but there are huge loads put on the side wall of the tyre and if the driver is aggressive in their driving style and riding over the ripple strips on the corners tyre failure is imminent.

Race 5 and starting from 16th and 20th both Moff and Garth were disappointed, but were also aware that with 57 laps (250km) ahead that much could happen. In these circumstances I find that little goals along the way are important and often give you that incentive to keep looking ahead and the feeling of achievement. For example from 20th if Garth has the aim to pass one car every 6 laps he will finish inside the Top 10 and considering a 20th starting position that would be a satisfactory result.

The race started sensationally with Coulthard  (DJR) and Winterbottom (Prodrive) jumping the pole sitter McLaughlin (DJR) off the line. Back in the mid pack Todd Kelly (Nissan) went wide and turn 1 and on to the infield and to avoid contact between a number of cars ahead including Holdsworth (Team 18) who re-entered the track and collided with Tander causing damage to the LHF, but thankfully only minor. There were cars off everywhere with Todd Kelly and Courtney (Walkinshaw) forced to pit. By the end of lap 1 Moff had weaved his way to 10th and Garth 13th.

On lap 9 and while in 7th position Moff ‘s right hand front tyre blew out as he negotiated the very fast turn 1, this shot him into the infield and he skated across the grass and unfortunately this put him a lap down as he limped back to the pits. This was a sign of things to come as many suffered tyre failures. In the meantime Garth was working his way forward and on lap 23 when the Safety Car was deployed to clean up rubber and other debris left on the race surface as a result of multiple tyre blowouts he had worked his way inside the Top 10 and was 8th. Moff was doing the best he could and had battled his way to the front of the group that were a lap down and was 15th.

A decision was made to pit the #33 and fill Garth for home. At this stage there were 34 laps remaining and with a usage of 3.2 litres per lap and the capacity to hold 109 litres the numbers added up. It took 3 pit stops under the SC to get this fuel into Garth’s car but, but on the restart and with 30 laps remaining we were the first car in the field with enough fuel to get home.

As the race unfolded Garth kept working his way forward and by lap 41 he was leading. A late SC allowed others behind to put the remainder of the required fuel drop in their cars and to also put fresh tyres on. By this stage Garth’s tyres were nearly 30 laps old and on the restart with only what appeared to be 8 laps remaining with a time certain finish Garth was unable to hold off Coulthard (DJR Penske) or Whincup (888) and finished 3rd. Moff was very unfortunate as others were with a tyre failure, but battled extremely well to finish 14th.

Saturday night and of course there was a mix of emotions for everybody. The excitement of GT on the podium, but the disappointment for Moff and more particularly our inability to unlock the sheer speed required to qualify further forward was something the drivers and Engineers really focussed on and planned set up changes to the car prior to Sunday qualifying. In simple terms when we arrived at the track on Friday with a pre determined set up the boys made changes within the basic window of that set up in an effort to improve the car. On Saturday night they decided to take a new direction in an effort to find some more speed while still keeping in mind the necessity of looking after the tyres.

Unfortunately this direction was no better and possibly a little worse on where we were Saturday and Garth qualified 20th and Moff 23rd. Again it was McLaughlin leading the way from Coulthard in their DJR Penske Ford’s. A quick reset following qualifying and back to Saturday’s race set up and a plan to work our way forward.

Race 6 of the Championship and yet again early action with Slade (BJR) and Davison (Tekno) coming together at turn 2 and ending Davison’s race. In the meantime GT had started like he was fired out of a canon and by the time he reached Honda hairpin (turn 4) he had passed 12 cars to be in 8th position. Unfortunately for Garth he was on the outside of Slade (BJR) who had others on his inside. As the gaggle of cars jostled for position Slade moved to his left where Tander was which forced Garth to abort the hairpin and drive up the escape road and unfortunately sending him to the rear of the field. Moff also blazed off the line and with a SC called following this lap 1 activity he made up 9 places to be in 14th. Moff pitted first with Garth waiting behind. On the restart Moff was 12th and Garth 21st. The race was being led by Scotty McLaughlin, but unusually he was the only car in the field to not have pitted under the SC which would likely be a problem as the race unfolded.

People often wonder why you would pit after just one lap. The reason is that during the 250km race you must put a minimum of 140 litres in the race car during the race. It doesn’t matter what you start with or finish with, so long as you put 140 litres of fuel in during the running of the race. The fuel flows at approx. 4 litres per second, hence 140 litres takes approx. 35 seconds to put in the car. If you are able to put say 15 seconds of this fuel in while the SC circulates you save much more time than under race conditions, hence the teams take advantage of these opportunities.

The race continued on and with overnight recommendations for maximum camber settings and an increase in the minimum tyre pressure, tyre failures were not as prevalent. But, there were teams and drivers that did push the limits and each of the 888 cars, Caruso (Nissan) and Percat(BJR) all experiencing failures.

As the race settled it was Whincup (888) that theoretically led as he shadowed McLaughlin who was yet to take a pit stop. Similar to yesterday the SC was deployed to clean up rubber and body panels strewn on the race surface as a result of the tyre failure on Whincup's 888 Holden. Again it was at a time when a full tank of fuel would get you to the finish line. This time all teams took this opportunity excluding McLaughlin who was out of sequence with the field. On the restart Mostert (Prodrive) although second was the leader as McLaughlin still had to stop. Moff had fought his way up to 8th and Garth had recovered magnificently from the very rear of the field to be just outside the Top 10 in 11th.

With 32 laps to the finish, again as much as protecting your track position and trying to make positions where possible is important so too is the conservation of the tyres and making it to the end. In these circumstances a driver doesn’t want to be a “sitting duck” and an easy pass for those wishing to push that little bit harder. One of the hardest charges in Supercar racing is Craig Lowndes and from 13th on the restart he was up to 4th by lap 46 but soon paid the price for with a tyre failure on lap 51 ruining his chance of a podium. Moff was now 4th and Garth 7th and that is where they finished with the race being won by Mostert from his teammate Mark Winterbottom with Dave Reynolds (Erebus) 3rd.

It is too difficult to put exactly in words the activity over the weekend as it all now seems such a blur to me. The one thing I want to say is how proud I am of my team and sponsor group. We arrived at Phillip Island with no relevant previous data, we struggled from the moment the cars hit the track but our Engineering group were smart enough to realise that tyre life was going to be a huge influence on the racing. They didn’t panic and put a car on the track that could blow your socks off for a lap, but also potentially damage a tyre in the process that may come back to haunt you in the races. The drivers drove exceptionally and made the very most of every opportunity and didn’t drop their bundle when things were not seeming too rosy. Our pit crew were absolutely fantastic with the efficiency of their stops and their ability to do such a great job under enormous pressure was a big reason as to how we worked our way through the pack.

Finally as a Team owner I am accountable to those who invest their money in our team. We always do our utmost to represent them to the very best of our ability and the understanding that you require when things are not going quite as we all hope is vital. I am very fortunate that we have an incredibly loyal, understanding as most importantly supportive group of sponsors that make it possible for us to go to the races. Thank you.


Round 3 - Phillip Island 500

MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT:  The smiles and cheers in the garage following both the Saturday and Sunday races

MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT:   The hot dogs for lunch on Sunday, they repeated on me!