RACE REPORT Sydney SuperNight

I certainly appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to travel to Sydney until Saturday morning for the one day qualifying and 300km race as I was behind with my jobs at home. The cold Melbourne winter had seen my firewood supply disappear at an alarming rate, so I spent Friday cutting and splitting wood. I commandeered Les (GRM Workshop Manager) to spend a day as my assistant and it surprised me that a man of 6’3”, 120kg’s of pure muscle had trouble keeping up with a feeble 73-year-old pensioner. It’s amazing what you can teach the younger generation!

Saturday morning, I bounced out of bed feeling brand new, even after leading the way with the 10-tonne of wood that was now neatly stacked. And I was in the good books with Kaye! What a great start to the weekend.

Barry picked me up from Sydney airport at 1.00pm and the atmosphere and activity at Sydney Motorsport Park was noticeably more vibrant than in recent years. There certainly was a “buzz” around the impending night race.

The format for the event started with a knock out qualifying session, the same as Symmons Plains and Barbagello earlier in the season. Following the two practice sessions the field is ranked and the Top 10 sit out Q1 and advance straight to Q2 where they are joined by the six fastest from Q1 and finally Q3 is the Top 10 from Q3. Bieber (James Golding) was showing very good speed throughout P1 and following P2 he was ranked 10th and 4/10ths off Scotty McLaughlin, GT was a few tenths further back in 19th. Surprisingly all three 888 cars also missed the Top 10 following qualifying with Lowndes the best in 14th. 

I know I say it all the time, but present-day Supercar racing is the most competitive form of Motorsport in the world and if either the driver or the car is not 100% right then it is very, very difficult. In many other forms of Motorsport, a driver can “muscle” an underperforming car around the circuit and go ok, and vice versa an underperforming driver can be enhanced by a superior car. To finish with a good result in Supercars you need both to be at their absolute best.

Unfortunately, Bieber couldn’t make it past Q2 and finished qualifying in 13th, his best result for the year. Garth had plenty of work to do starting 22nd, but with a racer of his experience there is always that belief that if anybody can produce an acceptable result form such a qualifying position, it is GT. Scott McLaughlin is creating all sorts of records this year in qualifying yet again earning pole from his teammate, Fabian Coulthard.

I feel a little guilty when I refer to the weather as I know there are many people suffering in NSW and Queensland because of the dry. But, for the benefit of a night race in winter, fine weather is something that certainly enhances the show for the fans. Saturday night was one of those nights and with celebrity like introductions of the drivers with smoke machines, beaming lights and booming music all in the background it was time to race. The 26-car field completed their warm up lap and the sight and sound of the field under lights lined up ready to go gave me goose bumps.

The 300km (77 lap race) required a minimum 3 compulsory pit stops. There were many strategies discussed leading up to this race and when discussing strategy, the two major factors are fuel consumption/range and tyre life. 

A Supercar consumes a little over 3 litres of fuel for every lap of the 3.93-kilometre Eastern Creek Grand prix circuit and has a range of 36 laps on a full tank. The surface of the race track is particularly abrasive apart from turn 1 which was resurfaced last year, and tyre degradation starts the very moment the car circulates and stints exceeding 20 laps result in lap times that decline rapidly. 

Ideally the plan would be stop at 19, 38, 57 and finishing on 77. This plan is of course influenced by track position and whether a driver is being held up during the race. For instance, if a driver is racing in a train of cars but feels that they are faster, but unable to find a way past they are more inclined to pit early and circulate at a lap time quicker than those they were racing amongst and therefore passing them when they pit, the downside is if a pit stop is taken early then at some stage you will be required to run longer on a set of tyres and with degradation high the early advantage can soon be lost.

Unfortunately, for Garth these possible scenarios were soon forgotten when Heimgartner (Nissan) slammed in to the rear of the #33 on lap 5. The result of the impact was considerable damage to the underside rear of the car (non-structural) and the rear diffuser which normally assists with the cars aero now acted more as a parachute. The night did not improve between Garth and the Nissan’s when Simona DeSilvestro snuck up the inside of the #33 on lap 30 also making contact. It’s certainly a night I’m sure Garth won’t put on his highlights reel. 

Personally, I felt proud at the beginning of the night when the drivers were introduced, and Garth came out with his daughter (Scarlett) and son (Sebastian) it took me back to 1998 when a pimply faced, awkward, lanky young man from Western Australia travelled to Melbourne and pushed his case for a drive with GRM. Garth never did it easy and as much as his family supported him morally he did not have financial support and to have made a living, but also have such a successful career to date and along the way find a wife (Leanne) who shares his passion and bring it all back to GRM makes me tremendously proud. Don’t worry GT will be back better than ever!

From 13th Bieb’s held his position off the start which required a little “elbowing” as the field funnelled in to the high-speed turn 1. This opening turn on the opening lap can be very intimidating but Bieber showed great determination to hold his ground as those much more experienced pressed him from both sides and the rear. As the race unfolded and because of some excellent pit stops by the crew and consistent lap times from James (Bieber) the #34 was 9th as the race was about to resume following a Safety Car period caused by the rear wing of Hazelwood’s (MSR) car flying off as he powered down the front straight at 270km/h resulting in a spin at turn 1. This highlighted the downforce and hence grip that the rear wing gives the car, they are certainly not there for looks!

On the restart Bieb’s again had the blow torch applied to the rear bar of the #34 and this time it was the very experienced Coulthard (DJR Penske) who managed to squeeze his way by and this opened the door and Bieb’s lost a couple more positions and finished 13th.

Bieber should take some very big positives and confidence from the weekend. He finished 2nd amongst the rookies behind Le Brocq (Tekno) and certainly showed he can match it with those that have been around for many seasons. I have a great deal of belief in Bieber and if he continues to keep his “head down and bum up” and focus on the job at hand I am sure he will continue to show improvement. 

Out the front it was a ding-dong battle between the Lowndes, McLaughlin, Van Gisbergen and Whincup. In the end it was the aggressor Van Gisbergen that got the job done form Scotty and Whincup.

Personally, I thought the Super Night race was a huge success and it was the first time in more than 20 years that I can remember such a crowd at a race meeting at Eastern Creek. I am getting on, but I think I have a pretty good understanding on modern day life. People have so many more options with things to do and so many more demands particularly when they have young children. That is fantastic, but there is only so much that you can do with your time and I think that on a normal weekend families have sport to go to, shopping to do, family to visit, many work and so on. Racing at night provides an opportunity for families to get together and be entertained for a couple of hours by Australia’s premier Motorsport, Supercars!

I can’t wait for Tailem Bend!

MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT - Being told by the stewards that we had to take the disco ball off our pit boom because it may be a distraction. Get serious!!!

MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT - I bought some pyjamas for a couple of the boys and seeing Scotty B (Scott Burch – Engineer, pit tour guide and all-round great guy) wearing his flannelette jarmies put a smile on my face (watch Scotty’s latest GRM Tech Talk in his PJ’s below).

Garry