Winton Race Report
May 28, 2019
Round 6 and races 13 and 14 of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship took us to Winton Raceway in north east Victoria. The Winton race-track was opened in the early 1960’s and it was a circuit where us Victorians spent much of our time racing. In 1997 the circuits length was increased from a little more than 2km to 3kms and for fans it provides excellent viewing as most of the circuit can be seen from almost anywhere. In recent years the campground that is located outside the circuit between turns 9-11 has grown significantly and has really added to the atmosphere of this event.
I am tremendously proud when I talk to people who make the effort and bear the expense of travelling around the countryside to watch Supercars. At Winton on the weekend I was speaking with one of our fans who hooked up their van on Thursday after work and left Adelaide to head to Winton and return to Adelaide on Monday. It is the commitment of people like this that inspire my Team to keep pressing on and working hard.
The Supercar program was condensed to two days, Saturday and Sunday with one of the two practice sessions as a co-driver only session. Our 2019 endurance drivers are Chris Pither and Richard Muscat and to be frank I am pleased to have some consistency with this part of our program. Richard and Chris have been a part of GRM for several years and both drove for us in the endurance races last year producing reliable and solid results.
Friday, and the drive to Winton showed a significant change in the countryside from the previous week when we tested. Like much of Australia the north east of Victoria has had very little rainfall, but with significant falls recently the dormant, baron, brown paddocks had sprung to life and the overwhelming colour of the landscape was a fresh, vibrant green. I am certainly no “greenie”, but I am amazed by nature and how from what appears to nothing, virtually transcends in an instance following rain.
This rain also changed significantly the track surface. The previous week when we tested at Winton there were also several TCR cars testing. The TCR cars race on Michelin tyres (same as Porsche Carrera Cup) and the rubber that they put down on the race surface provides excellent grip for a Supercar.
The weather on Saturday began with light rain and apart from the first 5-minutes of the co-driver session the remainder of the session was on a rain effected track and very little was gained as both of our drivers spent the opening 5-minutes roading green tyres and didn’t complete a flying lap. They did however spend time running on wet tyres and working through some ergonomics within the cabin. It is very rare that both the primary driver and the co-driver share the same requirements when it comes to seat size and position and pedal box and steering location. It really comes down to a compromise and this is normally more so from the co-driver. It is normal practice to spend time in the workshop with both drivers to find positions that suit both, but often what feels right sitting in the workshop changes quite significantly when the G-forces and the aggressive behaviour of a Supercar take hold. Chris found what he thought was a comfortable and safe racing position in the workshop, now was not quite so as he moved around in the seat.
This feedback from Chris soon became extremely important. As practice for Race 13 of the Championship entered the final minutes Richie Stanaway left the circuit and was airborne as he launched the #33 into the protective tyre barrier. Richie thankfully exited the car unscathed yet reported that the neck issue he had at the test day had re-ignited. On further discussion Richie explained that he felt fine through the early stages of practice as the track was still damp and the car slid rather than gripped, but as the track dried and the grip level was enhanced he struggled to keep his head straight and was using the sides of the seat to support his head and this contributed to the off track excursion and resultant damage.
Obviously whenever a crash occurs the first thought is for the driver and this doesn’t change when it is an opposing team’s car. When confirmation is given that the driver is not injured it’s amazing to see the action plan to repair the car move in to action. Stiffy (Stefan Millard – Team Mgr.) rallied the troops and with an incredibly positive attitude and bounce in their step away they all went working like a well-oiled machine to dismantle, straighten and replace broken and bent parts. It is these moments that make me so incredibly proud of my Team, there is no whinging, moaning or finger pointing just a group of guys and girls that have one thing in mind and that is fix the car. To their credit the car was fixed minutes before the upcoming qualifying session.
There were concerns for Richie and after attending the medical facility and determining that he had no structural damage, but more nerve related pain he chose to continue through the day. Richie did a reasonable job in qualifying on a wet track and was only 1/10th off progressing to the top 15 yet had to settle for 18th. James Golding put together an exceptional performance and finished with a career best start for a SuperSprint round and ended qualifying in 9th position.
The weather does impact on how a race car is set up. Simply, if the track is very wet and the forecast suggests that it will stay wet then the engineers choose a soft setting which keeps the tyres on the race surface and less aggressive cambers on the wheels which keeps more of the surface of the tyre on the track as the car slides. It is quite the opposite on a dry track where a harder overall setting is implemented so as energy and performance are not lost through the suspension and more camber which squares the tyre up as the car corners and the tyres grip.
Saturday at Winton was tricky as there had been sprinkles of rain and intermittent sunshine. The radar indicated scattered showers in the area, yet it was obvious that the race would not be a full wet race. In situations like this often a compromise is reached and following discussions between the engineers and drivers a decision is made on set-up.
In the time between qualifying and race I walked to the other side of the circuit to look at the campers and as always was amazed at the number of people who were in the area and the effort that many had made with their camp sites. It seems that as each year passes people become more imaginative with their setups. The Winton round has become like a “mini Bathurst” when it comes to camping. Well done to everybody and your energy and enthusiasm for Supercar racing is well appreciated by me and all at GRM.
Richie was attended to by Dr.Carl (Supercars doctor) and given some anti-inflammatory medication to ease the issue with his neck.
It was evident almost immediately the moment that race 13 of the Championship began that Richie was in trouble. The moment the race began and the resultant force of braking and cornering, Richie could not hold his head upright and again had to utilise the sides of his seat to support his head. In retrospect Richie should not have driven, yet like any competitive professional sportsperson they always want to front up and have a go and as much as Richie’s 25th place was disappointing he did his best.
We certainly had high hopes for James Golding having qualified inside the top 10 and ahead of champions such as Jamie Whincup and Van Gisbergen. With qualifying taking part while the track was still lacking grip, Mostert (Tickford) took the advantage and earned pole from Coulthard (DJR Penske). Championship leader Scotty McLaughlin was in an unfamiliar position on the 3rd row.
The opening laps were hectic as both Shell cars came together and Coulthard had a moment with his teammate as they exited turn 4 and around 5. This sent both the #17 and #12 to the infield and Coulthard re-joined near the rear of the field. Scotty continued across the infield and re-joined in 3rd as the cars approached turn 10. This was deemed to be okay and the race continued Dave Reynolds (Erebus) leading the way. Bieb’s had moved to 8th and held this position until lap 6 when Van Gisbergen squeezed past. The consensus on the radio waves was a severe lack of grip for all drivers which continued the theme from qualifying. The #34 stopped for tyres on lap 7 and from here really struggled with the conditions and came home a disappointing 17th after such a promising start. Out front McLaughlin took control and won from Mostert and Reynolds.
Richie was again assessed following the race and although he wanted to race there were risks associated both for himself and for the performance of the team. Stiffy (Stefan Millard Team Mgr), Krusty (Richard Hollway Eng. #33) and Richie had a frank discussion and it was decided that it would be best for Richie to not to drive on Sunday and it was important that he explore what was going on with his neck.
Thankfully, Chris Pither had stayed around following the co-driver session earlier in the day. During the week Chris’ time is normally spent travelling around the countryside with his job as a performance driving instructor and had been firmly told that he had to get his gardening duties completed on Sunday. He had a choice. Do 200km in a Supercar or mow the lawns? I can’t understand why it took more than a second to make that decision.
With this decision made Stiffy gathered the mechanics together and devised an action plan to make this happen. Many would think that Chris would just get in the car and drive, why do things need to be changed in the car? As mentioned earlier the co-driver tends to use cushioning and in some cases a seat insert to best fit in to the primary driver’s seat and seating position. But this is never the best fit and if a compromise can be avoided particularly when Chris was going to be the only driver, we wanted him as comfortable as possible. A decision was made to have the seat and leg support system that Chris used in Super 2 last year brought up to Winton. Something like this seems simple but it requires organisation and effort by many people. Stiffy contacted Spoon (Nan Kloth – GRM car builder) who was at home having an evening with his family and he immediately headed into the workshop and gathered everything required from storage and in the meantime Sheldon (Luke Sullivan – GRM S500 Engineer) was also contacted and he went to the workshop picked up the required items and headed up the highway to Winton arriving in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Stiffy and the crew arrived at the track just after 5.00am after finishing near midnight on Saturday and got about fitting the seat and drivers leg restraint system.
I spent Saturday night sharing a room with Chris and of course he was excited at the opportunity that he had. As I said earlier Chris has been a part of GRM for several years and his initial drive for us came about in similar circumstances to the current situation. It was 2015 and David Wall had 3rd degree burns on his foot from the Adelaide 500 and Chris stood in at the AGP.
When Garry (Dad) and I travel we always have a Jamo’s (Jamieson Irish whisky) and although I don’t really like it, I always have one with dad to be polite. As he wasn’t at Winton, I still felt it right to have a Jamo’s and as I sat talking to Chris, I offered him a little nip, the true professional that he is he knocked me back. The next morning, he said that he didn’t sleep too well. You should have had the Jamo’s Chris!
Sunday and the weather although very cold appeared much more stable and following the racing activity of Saturday the consensus was that the track would be much faster. This was soon realised when Scott McLaughlin demolished the opposition and set a new lap record in qualifying. In fact, his lap was that good that he was 0.5 of a second clear of his teammate in 2nd and 6/10ths ahead of Whincup in 3rd. To illustrate this dominance, it is interesting to note that in 2018 McLaughlin and Coulthard again shared the front row and a 6/10th gap went all the way back to 11thplace.
Bieb’s just missed the cut in qualifying and started from P16 and Chris was probably a little too conservative in his approach and started in the same position as the #33 di the previous day, 25th.
From the opening lap it was the DJR Penske cars that dominated, and McLaughlin led Coulthard to yet another 1-2. Both GRM cars raced well and through the excellent work of the pit crew and the engineers (Manuel Sanchez #34 Krusty #33) they picked up places throughout the pit stop area of the race. Chris drove to the exact instructions that Krusty gave him and was consistent with his lap times as he ran long on both opening stints leaving him with “good” tyres for the run home. Bieb’s had driven extremely well to work his way inside the top 10 but hit a wall as he caught but couldn’t pass the Nissan of Heimgartner. The SC was called with less than 10 laps to go to as Will Davison (23 Red) was stranded on the infield. Following the restart Bieb’s overshot the corner at turn 11 as he was pressured by the Percat (BJR) and unfortunately undid what would have been a very, very good top 10 finish and he had to settle with 19th. Chris kept his nose clean and after been 13th on the restart lost one position to James Courtney (WAU) who stopped under the SC for tyres and finished 14th.
Again, a weekend of racing with some major disappointments yet also some positives. I am particularly proud of the teamwork displayed by our crew and the way they kept their heads held high after a crash in practice and how they all chipped in to turn the #33 car around to give Chris Pither the best race car possible.
Garry can’t wait for Darwin, neither can the whole crew. It’s only 11 deg in Melbourne today!
MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT – I missed Dad!
MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT – We had Boost boss, Peter Adderton travel from the US and he took his mum and dad on a road trip from Dee Why (NSW) to Winton. It is always exciting when Peter is in the paddock!