Gold Coast and home sweet home!

Home Sweet Home

It’s been a massively long five weeks since I last stepped through my front door, and I’ve been to three continents in that time.  My racing season is now over and it’s time for some well-earned rest, relaxation and training for 2015, with a bit of testing thrown in!  It hasn’t been the easiest of years by any stretch but it was great to finish on a higher note with the podium at Bathurst.

10731907_1512592212328815_1918554298_nAlthough I’d raced at the Gold Coast 600 in 2011, this year was the first time I’d had the chance to fully immerse myself into the V8 Supercar Series.  The three endurance races I did with Walkinshaw Racing were an all-round great experience and I made some good new friends ‘down under’.  It’s super competitive on track but – as you might expect from Australia – it’s pretty relaxed off it and made up of some big characters.  Being in a four-car team meant there were a great many people to learn from, all with different approaches and attitudes.  They all have a huge amount of knowledge and passion for the sport and I found myself taking different bits of advice from each of them to discover the best way of getting round Sandown, Bathurst and Gold Coast.

I formed a very good partnership with Nick Percat, and really enjoyed working with engineers Alex and Ty.  Walkinshaw Racing is a good team and they went out of their way to help me work on adapting to the car and series – it was, for example, a long time since I’d done a standing start!  I had to get used to downshifting using a clutch again, sitting on the other side of car and, like with most cars, you have to learn what to do to make them go quickly. I discovered lots about the tyres the series runs on, the way the cars work with the gearboxes they use, and the power they’ve got.  They have relatively little downforce and there’s a very small operating window to get the maximum out of the car.  You have to get yourself tuned into that and understand where you can push or where a delicate touch is required.  That balance is critical.  The cars are a huge amount of fun to drive and there’s plenty of bumping and banging; you know you’re in a tough and aggressive racing series but the guys have huge respect for each other too.

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The Bathurst 1000 was the race I really wanted to do, to see for myself the special draw and atmosphere the event creates.  It is Australia’s equivalent to Le Mans and every driver wants to be standing on the top step and have their moment there; a podium was fantastic and gave us good confidence going on to the Gold Coast race which, of course, I’d raced at before.

Between races I immersed myself in the Aussie racing drivers’ culture of cycling a lot, eating well, and generally having a good time.  There was plenty of banter and fun between all the Walkinshaw drivers and Tim Slade in particular is a demon cyclist.  By the time the race weekend started, we were all pretty relaxed and that atmosphere made it easier to be away from home for such a long time.  I shared a house with Nick and I can’t thank him enough for all he did to ease my transition from Corvette Racing to a new team and a different way of working.

B0iMcWZCEAAH84VTalking of working, we did a bit of PR stuff before the event and when there’s talk of a volleyball match there’s usually a few drivers around.  At GC, there were 6 or 7 V8 drivers and about 30 V8 supercar girls in checkered flag bikinis…James Courtney was ‘coaching’ the girls and we felt we should do our best to support our team mates.  Even the boss, Ryan Walkinshaw, turned up…funnily enough!!

The race weekend held a lot of promise as we were fast and on the pace with potentially a top 6 or 8 place car.  Nick got us into the top 10 shootout so our Walkinshaw Racing #222 Holden VF Commodore started p8 but it all went a bit downhill from there.   After an early Safety Car period, the re-start was messy and we were 4/5 wide into the first corner.  The long and short was that I was hit and bent the right steering arm which took us a long time to change, putting us out of contention from then onwards.  It was a great shame as I think we would have been 4th or 5th without that.

For our second race on Sunday it seemed that every decision taken by our car didn’t quite work out.  The kerbs there are vicious and the officials monitor how much kerb you take and let you know if your laps were legal or not.  Communication problems and issues during qualifying meant that Nick didn’t get that info and his two top laps were disallowed and we started 16th so we’d already got our work cut out from that moment on.

I made an okay start and was making up some places when there was an incident and possibility of a caution.  The team called two cars in, and as I was coming down pit lane they realised it wasn’t going to be a caution, so I not only had to double stack behind our sister car but also do it under green.  We lost a whole heap of time and were on the back foot massively thereafter.  We finished 10th which wasn’t bad considering, and were the highest placed Walkinshaw car in the Pirtek cup so it was a nice result to round out my trip.

Kudos to Kentucky

It was a bit of a thrash, but I went direct from Gold Coast to a family holiday in Dubai and then to Kentucky for a Corvette Racing test…do not stop, do not pass go, do not sleep!  Getting to the US meant I basically went for almost two days with only a couple of hours of sleep so I wasn’t in the best shape for the first day of the test.

We were using Corvette’s new test track at Bowling Green, Kentucky which is a purpose-built 2.5 mile high speed circuit which opened in august.  It’s been laid out and configured for us to be able to carry out some decent Le Mans testing.  It’s got quite a long straight, and the only place we go quicker in a straight line is Daytona.  It was the first time the team had tested there.

The slowest corner is second gear, and a lap is under a minute at an average speed of 120+mph – it’s really quick and I struggled to re-adapt to the C7.R and learn the new track while feeling so groggy.  My brain was fried and I didn’t want to crash the car or hurt myself so I let Tommy do most of the work on day one!

I had a good night’s sleep and was all fired up for day two but it then rained all day.  As it’s a brand new track, the water just sits on the surface and it’s like running on glass.  It was too much for the Michelin rain tyres so we called an early halt to the test which was a shame.  Our next one is early December so at least I get a few weeks at home.  I’ll make the most of them!

Images thanks to Ben Auld

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