Race Report Townsville 400

For those of us that live in the south of Australia heading to Townsville in July is certainly something we look forward to with average temperatures in the mid to high twenties. The city centre is located with the Pacific Ocean on its doorstep with a shoreline that could be straight out of a movie set with coconut trees and manicured lawns that abut the clean ocean sand.

As much as I would like to roll out the towel and relax in such a wonderful part of our country, we are here for races 13 and 14 of the Supercar Championship and this is one of our biggest events.

Joey left Melbourne last Sunday and along with Shags (Simon Higgins – our Super2 transporter driver) and arrived in Townsville on Tuesday afternoon. Joey and Shags washed the transporters up with the help of our friends at Volvo Trucks Townsville before taking part in the truck parade through the streets on Wednesday. Joey is always very proud to “show off” his truck and trailer in these events and always makes an effort to find a local to enjoy the experience with him as he takes them along for the ride. Well done Joey!

Along with our travelling crew of 30 we left Melbourne on Thursday morning arriving in Townsville late morning. We headed straight to the track and the boys and girls began constructing the pit garages for the weekend. The pit facility in Townsville is one of the best that we have in the country.

With no track activity on Thursday and the work completed in the mid afternoon and with the thought of the beach and the walkway alongside of it I scooted back to the hotel, considered putting the Speedos on but thankfully I used common sense and went for the shorts and t-shirt instead and walked for an hour or so taking in the scenery and thinking of the weekend of racing ahead.

Friday and we arrived at the circuit by 7.30 Stiffy (Stefan Millard – Team Mgr.) had the boys doing pit stop practice for 30 minutes. These practice sessions are held on four occasions over a race weekend and on a regular basis back at the workshop. Like anything practice not only improves the efficiency of the pit crew, but it also lessens the likelihood of making a mistake during a stop in a race. Pit stops look “easy” because the guys are so good at doing it, but there is always pressure in stops and this is enhanced by the noise and heat of the race car and rattle guns. During practice we can create what has to be done in a race, but the car is not hot (as it is not running) and there are not other cars entering and exiting pit bays around you that can take your attention off the job that is required. But, we try and recreate difficulties in these stops so the guys are always on their toes and ready to assist another member if required.

When we put the cars on the track for practice the engineers have already pre determined what they think will be the ideal set up and this is based on many factors including previous experience, track temperature, the condition of the track surface and others. During the practice sessions the drivers will give feedback and changes are made to see what impact they have on the car. The types of things that are changed are the spring rates (stiffness/softness of the springs), ride height (that is the height of the car off the ground) and the ride height can be altered at either the front or back of the car and the they experiment with the cars roll centre and that is the height at which the car pivots side to side from.

This year we are arriving at tracks with no useful data as we had raced the Volvo over the past three seasons. The Holden and Volvo have quite a different aerodynamic difference. In layman’s terms the Volvo had more rear grip and less front so when cornering the front didn’t want to turn and we have found the Holden to be the opposite, in that when you approach a corner the front wants to turn but there is less rear grip. Both Moff and GT have been working really hard with their respective engineers to address this and we are progressing.

Following Friday practice Garth was 11th and Moff 2/10ths further back and in 19th. Chaz Mostert (Prodrive) led the way from the inform Scotty McLaughlin.

As usual the engineers and drivers debriefed the day’s activities and debated what changes may help with qualifying speed. Often these answers are very hard to find especially when the driver feels as though the car is performing and reacting well. It’s easier to “go quicker” when there is an obvious fault in the car.

Qualifying saw both GT and Moff improve their times from the Friday afternoon green run (new tyre) practice. Moff was most impressive finding nearly 3/10ths and Garth improved nearly 2/10ths. Interestingly Mostert who was quickest on Friday fell away by half a tenth, but Scotty Mac found an amazing 4/10ths to earn pole. McLaughlin won pole by a little over 2/10ths. and I know that this doesn’t sound like much but this same margin covered the next 7 cars. Garth qualified 13th and Moff 17th. Within the team we felt we were “better” than that and were confident with 200kms of racing that our consistent race speed would see us move forward.

In the lead up to the race we were fortunate to have a group of indigenous dancers from the Wulgurukaba people who impressed me immensely with their traditional dancers which depicted hunting, fishing and they even had a “kangaroo dance” where they circled like kangaroos. I was even given a lesson in playing the didgeridoo, which wasn’t quite so successful. The enthusiasm of the Wulgurukaba people was infectious and they created a tremendously positive and energised atmosphere within our garage. Thank you.

Race 13 of the Championship, 200 kilometres or 70 laps of the 2.860km circuit that encompasses both a stadium section of track with general road sections used by the general public (Boundary Street and Charters Towers Road). The circuit has a high speed front straight (approx. 265kmh) which encompasses a slight left kink (turn 1) and into a tight turn 2 which provides excellent passing and at turn 3 the track enters the stadium section that takes the track all the way to turn 13 where the cars enter the main straight.

As the lights went out it was Whincup (888) who got the jump on McLaughlin and as the freight train of cars all funnelled into the tight turn 2 there was action in the mid pack. Moff was caught out by the concertina effect as all the cars slowed up and he made contact with the rear of Todd Kelly who then also impacted the tight bunch in front, with Fabian Coulthard (DJR Penske) sent off the race line and to the rear of the field. In the meantime McLaughlin had asserted his dominance and retaken the lead. The first corner incident caused considerable damage to the front right of Garth’s car with the front guard waving in the wind and he was experiencing some handling issues on right hand corners which was an issue considering 9 of the 13 corners turn right. Moff had settled well and again showed his ability to get off the line and make the most of the early laps and by lap 6 he was 13th, GT was 11th.

The race required a minimum of 120 litres of fuel to be filled in each car during the race over a minimum of two stops and the teams would also take the opportunity to put fresh tyres on the car. We have found that our race set up seems to preserve the tyres a little better than some of our opposition and this allows us to often run a little longer in a stint if the opportunity to do so is there.

The first of the scheduled stops began around lap 12 and Moff came in on lap 17 with GT pitting two laps later. The engineers aim at these stops to put the driver in a part of the field where they either have clear track in front or are racing within a group that is not slower. They can manipulate this by how long they stop for. The fuel flows at 4 litres per sec. and with 120 litres required to go in over two stops that equates to 30 seconds of stationary time. The engineers calculate the time for the car to travel in and out of pit lane and then add the time the car is in the pit bay and work out where that will see them rejoin the race. They may add more or less fuel at this first stop to position the car where they plan. 

Following this first round of stops and as the race settled in the mid stages McLaughlin had built up a considerable lead from Whincup and Winterbottom (Prodrive). Moff was continuing his march forward and having taken on a little less fuel than GT at the first stop was in 10th with Garth in 13th. The second pit stops all began at lap 40 and Krusty called GT in on lap 42 with Manuel pitting Moff two laps later. As the race entered the last 20 laps both GRM cars were inside the Top10 with GT 9th and Moff 10th. Garth managed to pass Reynolds (Erebus) and was pressuring Van Gisbergen (888) as the race came to a close finishing 8th with Moff also finishing strong in 10th. McLaughlin won from Whincup followed by the three Prodrive cars of Winterbottom, Mostert and Waters.

Sunday morning and the day didn’t start so well with Moff been deemed the driver at fault for the turn 2 incident on Saturday and given a 15second penalty. These situations are difficult as cars group up and contact often results, I certainly appreciate that we don’t need guys or girls just ramming into cars in front for the sake of it, but there are occasions when this type of contact is unavoidable when you are racing so close and trying to protect your track position. Anyway the stewards have spoken and our efforts will be to try and move forward from that result.

Sunday’s qualifying was followed by a Top10 shootout. Garth was showing very good speed and found himself in the 10 Moff was only 1/10th off GT but 7spots back in 16th. Again McLaughlin dominated this session and only had to do two qualifying runs while the others completed three (excluding Dave Reynolds) and he found himself an incredible 2.6/10ths clear of the field, again as a comparison this same margin covered the next 11 cars.

Following the shootout Garth was unable to improve on his 9th grid position, Scotty sent a new track record and broke 1.12 with a 1.11.99.

Race 14 and the second of the 200km races that make up the Townsville 400. This time McLaughlin held Whincup at bay and led from the start. Both GT and Moff started cleanly and settled in 8th and 12th. Lowndes was the first to stop on lap 8 and our boys pressed on and were in the last few to take their stops with #33 stopping on lap 20 and Moff on lap 23. Both guys now with fresh tyres were in a strong position to take advantage of other cars that had stopped up to 10 laps earlier and GT and Moff both drove with controlled aggression as they sliced their way through the field.

By the time the second stops came and went they had settled in 7th and 10th. Upfront McLaughlin’s early domination was trumped by the 888 team who snuck Whincup on lap 15 and he rejoined doing a blistering out lap and first flying lap to pass McLaughlin as he exited pit lane a lap later. This move is known as undercutting and it requires the driver to do exactly as Whincup did and that is drive an exceptionally quick out and first complete lap which is not all that easy as the tyres are not up to temperature. Whincup drove those two laps quicker than Scotty was able to while on his older tyres and managed to just squeeze past him as rejoined from pit lane. There is always a risk when you put such an effort in that Whincup did in that it’s very easy to have a brake lock up and ruin a tyre, but he didn’t.

Whincup maintained his advantage over McLaughlin who chased hard and at times threatened, but Whincup went on to win from Scotty with Van Gisbergen in 3rd. Tander continued his push forwards and was in 6th with 15 laps remaining and nearly 7 seconds behind Mostert in 5th. Garth kept narrowing the gap and with 3 laps to go managed to get right on the tail of the Ford but was unable to get past, finishing a very creditable 6th. Moff also raced faultlessly and again illustrated the excellent race speed that both boys have developed and finished one spot behind GT in 7th.

Overall I was extremely satisfied with the performance of our Team. Stiffy did a tremendous job orchestrating the pit stops and the precision in which the stops occurred is certainly a very big reason as to why we are achieving some very reasonable results. I was very happy for Moff to have two top 10 finishes (I know Saturday’s is clouded with the post race penalty) and for GT to bounce back after a tough round in Darwin.

It was also great to see Richard Muscat finish on the podium (2nd) in the Super2 races and Mason Barbera break into the Top 10 on Sunday. Excellent job by the Super2 group.

Well done boys and girls I’m very proud of you all!

Finally, to those that read my race reports and are thinking of attending a Supercar event I would highly recommend coming to Townsville. I am reluctant to “favour” any particular event as we are very fortunate that we have many fantastic towns and cities that we race in, but Townsville is a place that has had some setbacks in regards to employment in the mining sector and other resource related job losses, yet the city is vibrant and extremely hospitable and along with the climate and scenery I would suggest it is worth the trip in 2018.

I can’t wait for Ipswich!!


MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT:  Always great to see a car in the shootout. Well done GT!

MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT:  Moff was proudly showing me some current photos of little Max Moffat and it appears that he is looking more like his Grandpa, let’s hope mum’s influence begins to show as he matures.