RACE REPORT Darwin Triple Crown

We love Darwin! Two weeks ago, we were testing at Winton (Benalla, Victoria) and thankfully for this time of year we enjoyed a beautiful, clear sunny day. But, Darwin must be the best place in Australia to spend your winter. The weather report is on repeat from June-September, LOW 20 – HIGH 30.

Joey left Dandenong South the Friday evening prior to the event and timed his run to catch up with a few old racing buddies who were competing at Finke, before continuing his near 4,000klm journey, arriving in Darwin late Tuesday. The thought of such a trip for many of us, travelling kilometre upon kilometre through desolate, dusty country and having to keep your wits about you for wandering livestock is not all that inspiring. But for Joe, he lives by the mantle that curiosity cures boredom and there is no cure for curiosity. Joe is so very proud of our Volvo Globetrotter FH16 700 and after each day’s driving meticulously cleans the bugs off the front of the prime mover and proudly talks about the performance and comfort of the Globetrotter to anybody who will listen.

The remainder of the Team left Melbourne on Wednesday morning, arriving in Darwin around midday. Again, this year we were assisting Wilson Security in creating awareness for indigenous reconciliation and this led to us visiting the Larrakeyah Army Barracks in Darwin on Wednesday afternoon where 40% of reservists are indigenous Australians. The visit to the barracks was particularly interesting as the barracks were in existence when the Japanese bombed Darwin on the 19th of February 1942. It’s amazing to think that more than 200 Japanese planes bombed Darwin on that day. 

The transporter parade has become a big part of the build up to the weekend of racing at Hidden Valley. For 20 years the transporters have travelled in convoy through the CBD at lunchtime on the Thursday, but this year a twilight convoy on the Wednesday had been arranged and what a site it was as the gleaming transporters with horns honking travelled through the city where adults and kids lined the streets with many kids pumping their arms to get an extra blast of the truck’s air horn. I certainly feel great pride when I see this type of activity and it really is great how Supercars includes the people of the city. Talking of truck horns, Joe has spent much effort over the past 3 years fine tuning the sound of the Globetrotter horn and he even arranged for Viking Trucks to make special horns, so he sounded the best in these parades! Well done Joey!

The Hidden Valley race track is a beauty for both racing and the fans. As the name suggests it is in a valley and has an amphitheatre feel about it. Fans have many vantage points on embankments, the infield and on the roof of the pit garages in pit straight. The circuit is 2.87 kilometres in length with 14 corners and is highlighted by a 1 kilometre straight where the cars reach 270km/h per hour. The facilities and entertainment provided for fans at this event is one of the very best in the Country with live bands, free, well organised and regular transport to the circuit from the city (12 kilometres) and a fantastic race program including many of the local heroes in some extremely competitive racing.

Friday evening the Chief Minister holds a reception on the lawns of Parliament House overlooking the picturesque Darwin Harbour. The reception is attended by many of the volunteers who make these events what they are and as a Team owner I am extremely appreciative of the work, effort and time these people put in at their own cost. Thank you!

As a Super Sprint event, following 3 practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning a 120-kilometre (42 lap) race is held Saturday afternoon and a 200-kilometre (70 lap) race on Sunday. The closeness of the competition was yet again red hot with the entire field separated by 9/10ths of one second following qualifying. GT was 13th and Bieb’s 21st.  A mere one tenth would have propelled Garth 6 places further forward. Bieb’s was less than 2/10ths off Garth, but small margins equal many grid positions. Dave Reynolds (Erebus) nudged the pole specialist Scotty McLaughlin with rookie Anton DePasquale doing a brilliant job in the second Erebus car to be third.

Both of our boys had the job ahead of them in the 42-lap race. The engineers and tyre techs had been monitoring closely the tyre degradation throughout practice and as we felt our tyre life was very good two strategies were devised and they were based around running long either at the start or the end of the race. If early in the race the driver feels as though he is being held up the decision would be stop early for the compulsory tyre and wheel change and hopefully “undercut” those that were holding you up when they eventually stop. The term “undercut” means putting together a succession of laps quicker than those that were in front of you prior to pitting and hopefully this will result in passing many while they pit later. The risk is the cars that pit later will have fresher tyres and then may be able to overtake you.

GT had a blinder of a start and as he later said, “the track opened up for him”, but I think he is being a little modest as his race craft and ability to make the most of every opportunity was evident in the first half a lap of Race 15 of the Championship where he went from 13th to 9th. Things only got better for Garth and the #33 crew from here with many of those racing in front of GT stopping early and when race leader Dave Reynolds stopped on lap 21, GT continued as he was consistently producing lap times similar to those who were on fresh tyres. Krusty (Richard Hollway) called him to pit on lap 32 and GT returned to the track 9th, but on much fresher tyres than those in front and he utilised this fresh rubber to hunt down the 888 cars of Lowndes and Whincup and the Nissan of Rick Kelly to finish a very credible 5th. Out front it was Scotty McLaughlin who utilised a very early stop to undercut Dave Reynolds for the lead who won from Van Gisbergen with Reynolds 3rd. For #34 Bieber started well and was racing inside the Top 20 before several mid pack challenges and resultant damage led to a 25th finishing position.

Sunday and the 200-kilometre race is preceded by a qualifying session and a Top 10 shootout. Following Saturdays extremely tight qualifying there wasn’t a lot of improvement that would have to be made to make the Top 10, also a small drop in performance would be costly. For guys like Garth with all their experience, it is often in these pressure moments where they excel and find that minute immeasurable quality to fight their way into these shootout situations. And that is exactly what GT did qualifying 8th. Following the Top 10 it was Rick Kelly (Nissan) continuing the Nissan resurgence on pole from Scotty Mac and GT produced another very good lap to pick up a couple of positions to be 6th. Bieber was only 6/10ths of a second off pole but as usual these seemingly small margins equate to more than 20 grid positions.

Prior to Race 16 of the Championship I took the time to visit the merchandise area and it is always very, very enjoyable to talk to the fans and listen to their stories of where they have travelled from or if they are locals listen to the things they do, its amazing what you learn. For instance, I discovered many of the locals are immune to the blessed sand fly (aka midge) and they can pick who the tourists are by the amount of bites on their legs. Darwin is one place every Australian should visit, but when you do make sure you don’t forget the Aeroguard!

At race meetings we take a mobile kitchen and are very lucky to have the best cook (whoops!! Chef!!) in pit lane, Dom. Dom came to us several years ago when Sal (PR Sally) found him at a coffee shop and recommended we give him a go. Well, we are that well fed that I’m thinking of producing a Cookbook, any ideas as to what I could call it???

Race 16 of the Championship and it felt good to have a car on the third row, but of course we are not satisfied with that. Following the strategy of yesterday and GT’s drive expectations of a good showing were as expected reasonably buoyant. But, in sport and in fact life you can never expect anything, the only way things come to you is through endeavour and hard work. We showed the field yesterday the potential to run long and many would have reanalysed the length of stint that can run. The other issue is when you start further forward it is natural to protect track position, rather than taking a risk on a strategy. With this in mind and a compulsory two stop race and a fuel drop of 120 litres the pre-race plan was to divide the race into three for the #33, but of course stopping earlier maybe necessary to avoid undercutting and potentially a more aggressive approach with the #34 which could either mean stopping early or running long.

The race began in earnest and it was Dave Reynolds who approached turn 1 off the second row with extreme determination on the outside and did an excellent job to take the lead. GT wasn’t far behind and nearly snuck through with Reynolds but at the risk of being hung out on the outside he had to retreat and tuck in behind McLaughlin who was third. As the race settled Whincup applied pressure lap after lap to Tander and not wanting to overdrive early GT surrendered to Whincup on lap 8. The first round of stops for the lead group began at lap 15 and as much as Krusty was wanting to run #33 a little longer he had to react to these stops and GT pitted on lap 19. Bieber was having his own battles and was hit heavily in the rear on lap 1 by Jones (BJR) causing him to ricochet in to Blanchard and all three ran off. Again, the result of qualifying certainly makes the racing a lottery for the rookie drivers. It is interesting to observe when the seasoned drivers such as Tander, Lowndes and Winterbottom qualify poorly. Their experience and ability to pass cleanly and position themselves where they are not so vulnerable shines and they can often turn dismal qualifying positions into “ok” race results. Unfortunately, Bieber’s day was defined by this early contact as his car lost balance and after a third pit sop late in the race he had to settle for 22nd.

Upfront, Reynolds was building a nice gap from McLaughlin and as the second and final compulsory stops took place from lap 35 on, it was Van Gisbergen who took the punt on staying out longest on worn tyres not stopping until lap 46. GT pitted on lap 37 and lost a few valuable seconds as he entered through the Erebus pit bay, but they were preparing for a stop and in the confusion their car controller was standing in front of Garth causing him to stop and wait for the car controller to move. Following the compulsory stops GT was 6th, but Van Gisbergen on fresher tyres was coming with a late run. A Safety Car period occurred on lap 60 when the Tickford Ford of Waters was stranded on the front straight and there was debris because of the Holdsworth (Team 18) splitter disintegrating. On the restart Reynolds pulled away from Mclaughlin with Whincup 3rd. GT was swamped by Van Gisbergen who continued his march to finish 4th. Garth came home a very solid 7th to complete two top 10 finishes for the weekend. Congratulations to Dave Reynolds and the Erebus Team, very worthy winners.

Unfortunately, it was now time to head to the airport and back to chilly old Melbourne. But, as we had three hours before the flight Barry and I returned to the hotel where we had been staying to see if we could have a shower and clean up. We were in luck, as we were ushered straight to the pool had a swim, quick tidy up. As we were about to leave Todd Kelly arrived, who along with running his Team had been chaperoning a group of “old codgers” from Mildura and they were about to get it in to some icy cold beers, the good guy that Todd is he kindly offered Barry and I one. Thank you.

I can’t wait for Townsville!

MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT:     Having to share a bed with Barry!

MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT:               Rolling over during the night thinking he was Kaye!

Garry

Barry, Garth & James wrap up our weekend from Darwin