Auckland Super Sprint | Race Report
Sep 19, 2019
There are very few more passionate about Motorsport than the New Zealanders. This passion certainly makes the trip to Pukekohe each year an enjoyable one. This year did not disappoint with excellent crowds turning out over the weekend.
The Pukekohe race circuit is similar to Sandown (Melbourne) in that it is constructed on the outside of a horse racing track and the majority of the crowd congregate on the hill and grandstand along the front straight. The circuit is extremely fast with speeds in the 260+km/h range as the cars approach turn 1 and turn 5 at the end of the back straight.
Scotty McLaughlin certainly discovered exactly how fast the circuit is as he hit the grass during qualifying at close to 200km/h as he exited turn 11 and on to the main straight and thankfully after a lovely pirouette and a quick stop at the dry cleaners he continued on. Throughout practice and qualifying Richie and Bieb’s were as good as they have been all year and it was a real positive step forward. We (meaning all drivers and teams) have stories about “if only I could put all 3 sectors together, or if only so and so didn’t baulk me on my fast lap” and the lap would have been much better. This was certainly the case for our drivers who certainly showed a marked improvement, yet for various reasons (some self-inflicted) didn’t maximise this speed in qualifying.
Saturday qualifying and Richie was 14th and Jimmy 18th. Van Gisbergen (888) earned pole from Waters (Tickford). This was a disappointing result as throughout practice both boys showed speed that saw them knocking on the door of the top 10.
The Auckland SuperSprint is made up of two races of 200km each over the weekend. For each race a minimum of 120 litres of fuel must be put into the car over at least two stops and you have 3 sets of Dunlop tyres for qualifying and the race. The Dunlop tyre used at Pukekohe is the harder of the two compounds we use throughout the year and is unusually known as the “soft” tyre and the softer of the two compounds we use is a “super-soft” tyre. The reason we use the SOFT tyre is because of the high-speed turns at 1 and 11 that put an enormous load on the tyre and in the past the softer compound tyre has had failures.
The major talking point that came out of the weekend related to the deployment of the Safety Car, which I will give my thoughts a little more on later. But, in Saturday’s race Bieber was the recipient of being picked up by the SC when in fact he wasn’t the lead car and it would have led to him going down a lap. Stiffy (Stefan Millard) and Lewis (Manuel Sanchez #34 Engineer) were straight on to race control and by the time the order was identified and Bieber let through he was severely disadvantaged and went from potentially being in the 10 after stopping prior to the SC to being back in 22nd. The bad luck continued for James and on lap 22 he had contact with Jones (BJR) on the right- hand front of the car which resulted in a power steering line failure and effectively his race was done as the repair took several laps.
Richie had a very positive start and was just outside the 10 when the SC was deployed on lap 14 and following the hustle and bustle in pit lane, he re-joined in 13th, but had taken on more fuel than some just ahead of him. The minimum fuel drop of 120 litres takes approximately 30 seconds over two stops and depending on the strategy determined by the engineer they may divide this into two 15 seconds stops or more or less at the first and then second stops. Krusty (Richard Hollway #33 engineer decided on 20 seconds at this stop to take advantage of the time lost when the SC is out is less than that the time lost when the cars are racing under green conditions. This worked out well for Richie and with very consistent and good car speed along with some excellent driving he came home in 10th. I don’t like to say that coming 10th is “good”, but on recent results it certainly was a step forward and the big positive was that it was a “real” or “earnt” position, not one that was inherited because of others poor fortune.
The finishing order was Van Gisbergen (888) from his teammate, Whincup and Davison (23 Red) 3rd. Although a post-race penalty to Whincup for turning Percat (BJR) around and Davison (23 Red) for a pit lane infringement meant that Waters (Tickford) and Reynolds (Erebus) completed the podium.
For many years we stayed at a motel in Pukekohe which has now been demolished and is being rebuilt as an Aldi supermarket, so Sally (GRM PR and organising lady) found us a place in Manakau, approximately 20 kms from the circuit. As much as the travel throughout a Supercar season may seem like a wonderful adventure and at times it is, you rarely see much more than an airport and a race track. New Zealand is a truly picturesque place and not dissimilar to many parts of Tasmania and I certainly enjoyed the countryside as Barry drove me to the circuit each day.
I’m not one for omens, but heading to the circuit on Sunday, as Barry pushed the little Suzuki Swift up an incline and we easily accounted for Gypsy (Jeff Marshall – GRM Engine guru) and a van load of fellow GRM staff I felt like a winner! Unfortunately, the day didn’t quite unfold that well, but Sunday at Pukekohe was a good one for GRM.
Qualifying and similar to Saturday neither Bieb’s or Richie nailed their laps yet certainly showed they had pace to mix it with those inside the 10. James qualified 15th and Richie 16th and only 1/10th outside the top 10. The front row saw Whincup on pole and joined by Lee Holdsworth (Tickford) who did a fantastic job in his Mustang.
The 200 km race started very similar to the corresponding Saturday race with an early Safety Car that again had an impact on the result. I know that there has been a lot of commentary regarding the SC period and it was certainly very confusing at the time. To simplify the situation as easily as I can, is several cars including Whincup and Holdsworth pitted in the laps just prior to the SC and in re-joining the race on such a short lap (<1.05min) and a long pit lane the result is they are just in front of the leaders and nearly a lap down. As the SC is deployed those that haven’t stopped race in to pit lane and as pit lane is before the start finish line the cars such as Whincup and Holdsworth are eager to get back around on their lap so as not to get lapped. The problem was that the Erebus car of Dave Reynolds was stationary on the track at turn 9 and the SC was waiting in the back straight to queue the field. This is when Whincup, Holdsworth and others were desperately trying to get past as they knew that they were not the leaders and wanted to make it around before they were lapped. As it worked out Whincup chose to take matters into his own hands and Holdsworth waited behind the SC with lights on. When the field finally exited pit lane and the race order was determined Holdsworth was waived through yet now near the end of the field from what earlier was a rather commanding position. I understand the frustrations of the drivers and teams in these instances and I also understand the importance of safety when a car is stranded on the circuit.
I always like to write my own reports and I don’t want to be guilty of plagiarism, but as I am so late completing my report I have now read a speedcafe.com article that articulates rather well the events that unfolded and I have included the details below.
Race 24 sequence of events
Jamie Whincup leads from pole ahead of Lee Holdsworth, that order continuing for the opening four laps of the race.
Having stopped at the end of Lap 5, Holdsworth crosses the control line to begin Lap 6.
The control line is handily located in pit exit, meaning cars which pit only complete a lap as they exit the lane.
Holdsworth is now 54.195s behind race leader Whincup, having been 1.474s behind prior to his stop.
Jamie Whincup returns to the race following his Lap 12 pit stop behind Garry Jacobson in 16th, and with a 3.104s advantage over Holdsworth.
Scott McLaughlin and David Reynolds have continued to circulate, McLaughlin the new race leader with Reynolds in ninth.
McLaughlin completes his 13th lap, with a 52.923s advantage over Whincup.
Television coverage cuts to a slow moving Reynolds on driver’s left approaching the Turn 8 hairpin.
In the background, Whincup and Holdsworth are approaching the chicane.
The radio exchange between Reynolds and the team also provides our first indication that the Safety Car has been deployed, coming roughly 20 seconds after we see his car moving at a snail’s pace.
Whincup and Holdsworth pass Reynolds as the Safety Car message is relayed to him.
Just over five seconds after Reynolds is told by his team that the Safety Car has been deployed, graphics on the broadcast state as much as vision switches to inside Race Control.
Race leader McLaughlin is exiting the chicane at the end of the back straight and is followed by the bulk of the field which has not yet stopped.
With Reynolds off the racing line and in no immediate danger, and given the field will have already passed the incident once without the control of the Safety Car, was a Safety Car needed at that precise moment?
Could it have been covered under double waved yellow flags until it was clear either who the race leader was (McLaughlin), or that the stricken Reynolds needed external assistance?
McLaughlin completes the second sector on his 14th lap and will shortly take to pits.
DJR Team Penske had approximately 25 seconds between the Safety Car being announced to when McLaughlin would have entered the lane.
As the field behind him also pits, he retains the race lead.
Whincup has completed Lap 13 and crosses the timing beam at Sector 1 at the start of Lap 14, doing so while almost simultaneously catching the Safety Car.
His sector time of 15.7s compares with a 15.4s last time he was at full racing speed through the sequence (Lap 12).
As Whincup and Holdsworth approach the Safety Car, the first cars to do so since it was deployed, they see orange lights.
While Whincup elects to ignore these and pass anyway, Race Control stated it had opted to control the field in an effort to make sense of the situation in the first instance.
However, even allowing for the short lap, and that much of the field had taken to the lane, it was reasonable to see that Whincup and Holdsworth were not the race leaders.
In that instance, and given the Safety Car was in a safe position, was it reasonable to expect the Safety Car to pull aside and allow all following cars through since McLaughlin was the clear leader, not Whincup?
After all, McLaughlin didn’t cross that line at the end of Sector 1 for more than a minute after Whincup and Holdsworth caught the Safety Car.
Having passed the Safety Car, Whincup crosses the timing beam at the end of Sector 2, just over two seconds off full race pace.
Whincup completes Lap 14 and has therefore overtaken the field, which is still in the pits.
He is chasing back to the tail end of the Safety Car train and officially becomes the race leader the moment he completes Lap 14.
Had Holdsworth followed Whincup, he would have slotted into second – there was a 14 second gap between when Whincup crossed the line to start Lap 15, and McLaughlin did the same.
Taking that into account, had the green light have been displayed on the Safety Car, the race order would likely have been Whincup, Holdsworth, Cam Waters, Fabian Coulthard, and potentially even Will Davison ahead of McLaughlin.
McLaughlin completes Lap 14 having been released from the pits and is, like Whincup, chasing back to catch the Safety Car queue.
The DJR Team Penske driver is now second.
Holdsworth completes the second sector, 32.1s after Whincup and is classified 11th at the end of the lap.
Though he and all other cars on the race-track between the Safety Car and the leader will eventually be released as it picks up race leader Whincup, the impact on the race has already been made.
The result for GRM was a double top 10 result with Richie in 9th and James 10th. Sure, we did receive a benefit with the manner the SC period unfolded but in saying that both the #33 and #34 had the car speed that deserved these positions. It’s important to note that the race ran green for 50 plus laps following this period and it was a tremendous job by our entire crew with their smooth pit stops and Richie and James both drove very, very well. I had a big smile on my face as they battled nose to tail in the closing laps and I wanted them to keep at it!! Luckily Stiffy was conscious of the fact that this battle was taking them back to Rick Kelly (Kelly Racing) who was doing a sensational job to keep Coulthard (DJR) behind him and Lewis (#34 engineer) called Bieber off Richie to complete a double top 10 result. Well done!
I can’t wait for Bathurst!!
MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT: my credit card didn’t work at the hot chip stand at the track and they wouldn’t accept good old Aussie dollar$
MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT: a very nice Kiwi saw my dilemma and kindly paid for my chips. They were beautiful!! (the chips and the kind person)