Sydney Telstra 500 - Race Report

With our strong results in Sydney over the past two years the team headed into the weekend with very high expectation and emotion, as it would also be Lee’s final race meeting with the team.

The weekend started with four practice sessions on Friday which Robbo participated in all four and Lee in the final two.

We hate to use the old cliché, that the cars were fast straight out of the truck, but they were. Lee and Robbo were on the pace straight away and easily running amongst the front runners.

Racing on the edge around the concrete lined street circuit, it can only take the slightest of mistakes to touch the wall and whilst Robbo was pushing a little too hard in the final practice, went into a tyre wall. He was still happy with the car and his final positioning.

Lee did use a fresh set of green tyres at the end but unfortunately ran over the kerb sensors on his two quickest laps and lost the times. If they had been clear laps his times would have had him finished 3rd quickest for the day.

Qualifying on Saturday comprised of a 20 minute qualifying session, followed by a top 10 shootout.

Both the GRM cars continued to show fantastic pace from practice and easily made it into the top 10 shootout.

Robbo dropped a place during the shoot out to qualify 9th. Lee produced a good lap with a brilliant 3rd sector to put the car on the front row (2nd), once again and maintained his front row start record at the event.

Lee had a great start, in the first 250km race of the weekend, from the front row and challenged for the lead off the line, before slotting into 2nd place. On lap 10 Lee passed Davison to take the lead, and was able to maintain this until pitting on lap 24.

Robbo had a great start as well making up a place off the line.

After the first pit stops were completed Lee was 4th and Robbo 7th, with a number of cars in front of them, but running a different pit stop strategy.

Mid race Lee got caught up in a number of battles and ended up losing four positions, including a spot to Robbo, when Winterbottom turned Murphy around.

As others pitted Robbo moved into the lead and was able to establish a 5 second lead over Lowndes in 2nd position.

Lee had worked his way back up to 4th when he pitted on lap 44. Unfortunately there was a miscalculation with the # 33 cars re-fuelling during this stop, and it was necessary to pit Lee again, under safety car, on the following lap for a splash and dash. This was done to ensure he had enough fuel to reach race end but it did cause Lee to drop well back in the pack.

Robbo pitted under safety car on lap 46.

Strategy and fuel economy would now really come into play, and most teams were in the same boat with having pitted, and maybe not quite having enough fuel to reach race end without another pit stop or safety car.

On the restart Robbo was in the lead and able to gap Lowndes but had to conserve fuel as it was going to be a long stint (29 laps) and very tight on fuel. As Robbo backed off to conserve, Lowndes passed him for the lead. Lowndes also was conserving so it was really going to go down to the wire. Robbo was able to maintain 2nd until the final lap when he was only running on fuel vapors. Tander passed him and also Van Gisbergen, but the later crashed into Robbo who was fuel surging his way to the finish line.

Robbo hung on to finish 4th, not a worthy result for the excellent drive that he had produced.

Lee, after dropping back to 17th, was able to move up to finish 14th.

Robbo’s car sustained a lot of damage after the Van Gisbergen hit, and this would have the crew knuckling in for a late night finishing around 1 am.

Sunday’s 20 minute qualifying was run under dark skies with rain threatening.

Lee qualified 10th and Robbo 12th, but Robbo lost his fastest time for bringing out the red flag, after running into a tyre wall. Robbo was able to get his car out of the wall in reasonable time but the race director was very quick on the draw and had the red flag out which took most by surprise as this incident had not affected the qualifying session.

Another fine moment by the race director who by now has established himself as a very worthy leader of the Keystone Cops!!

Only a few minutes after the session finished the rain started. It continued to rain on and off to the race start and this led to a crazy race start with Lee (and half the field pitting on the warm up lap for slick tyres and starting the race from pit lane).

Robbo stayed out on wets as it continued to lightly rain for the first few laps but the track was developing a very clear dry line, and on lap 11 Robbo pitted for slicks.

Race officials deemed that Robbo had not started the race in the correct position, after the ten grid position penalty for the red flag, off the starting grid and was required to serve another 10 second penalty during a pit stop.

Both cars had great race speed and neither Leethal or Robbo were shying from any on track battle. The pit stops for both cars were flawless and helped keep the team in podium contention.

Lee and Robbo stopped a final time on lap 49 with Lee maintaining 3rd position and Robbo moving up to 14th.

All was looking great for a podium finish for Lee, but with 5 laps to go, Dumbrell spun in front of Lee. As Dumbrell was recovering from the spin, Lee not having anywhere had to go, ran straight into him causing a great deal of damage to the # 33 car.

Lee’s day was done!!.

With the all the bashing and crashing going on around him Robbo put his head down and drove a flawless final few laps to finish a very creditable 6th position.

With strong cars all weekend it was disappointing to not come away with a race win, but there were a number of positive’s for the team to take away from the weekend.

Lee ended the season 8th in drivers championship and Robbo gained 2 places to finish 14th. We finished the team’s championship in 6th position.

We would like to wish Lee, the very best (hope he goes well but not too well) in his move to Stone Brother’s Racing in 2012 as he has been a great ambassador for the team and will be very much missed around the workshop.

We will be making a decision on Lee’s replacement at a later date and contrary to what is being reported in the media we are not having a shootout at Winton next week. We will be running a normal test day on the 12th December and giving a couple of drivers a run in the # 33 car.

It has been a long season and I would again like to thank everyone for your continued support and friendship as without this we would not be able to compete at the level that we do.

I look forward to seeing you all again in 2012 and would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and New Year.