Records tumble in windy conditions at SMSP
It was a long break for Supercars fans in Sydney, but the wait was worth it with round nine at Sydney Motorsport Park producing some of the best racing this season over the weekend and, with the advent of the super soft tyre, new records set along with some surprise results.
The blustery conditions that started early in the week continued through to Saturday evening and were to prove challenging for all drivers, particularly as the wind direction shifted from Friday to Saturday. At times the wind was gusting at over 80 kilometres an hour, but fortunately there was no sign of rain, which would have made it even more uncomfortable.
The Wilson Security Racing GRM team arrived at the track mid-week after what they saw as a disappointing previous round at Ipswich, but happy to be back in Sydney where they had tested the new tyre in February.
Friday as usual was practice day with two 45 minute sessions for the Supercars. The wind was cold and blowing hard from the west. Drivers reported the conditions were terrible with the wind playing havoc through many of the corners and down the main straight.
Both Garth Tander in the # 33 Commodore and James Moffat in the #34 Commodore were off to a good start with respectable times in the early and mid-stages of the sessions but as the last minutes kicked in and most teams switched to green tyres, they were not able to match the quick times being posted by the competition.
James was the quickest of the two in practice one with 15th fastest time while Garth was 23rd. Practice two saw some improvement by Garth who managed 18th fastest, but James’ time went in the wrong direction to give him 20th on the timing sheets.
The GRM team continued over the weekend to test various settings, but could not achieve the results they were seeking. As Garry Rogers said, there is no ‘magic bullet’ to the problem and the GRM engineers continue to make small but necessary changes in an effort to find those allusive tenths of a second in lap times. On a positive note, both drivers have performed well with the cars in race trim and this round was no exception.
Saturday showed some improvement weatherwise, with the wind shifted to a south-westerly and not as strong as the previous day. The final practice in the morning saw little change for the GRM team in positions with Garth posting 15th fastest and James 20th.
Qualifying for race one later in the afternoon was its usual last five minute scramble and once again there was an issue of slow cars obstructing those on a fast lap. Winterbottom tangled with Garth as Garth exited pit lane and left both cars with damaged bodywork.
Many drivers and their teams are calling for a change to qualifying sessions. There is no doubt in the hectic last minutes that now occur on a regular basis with drivers scrambling for a clean run there is potential for serious injury to drivers and damage to cars.
Scotty McLaughlin was dominant in qualifying as he has been in recent rounds and picked up the cheque for pole winner. Garth and James finished the session with 18th and 20th fastest times.
Race one had both Team PAYCE drivers performing well and working their way through the field.
This continues to be where both drivers and the team display strength to get the most out of the Commodores and as the race progressed #33 and #34 continued to pick up positions with good passing moves and good strategy by their engineers.
By race end, Garth was up into the top 10 in 10th place and James 17th. James would likely have finished much further up the order but for the safety car period that did not favour him.
An eventful incident with the resumption of the race after the safety car involving Scott McLaughlin and Shane Van Gisbergen had the crowd excited. Shane, in attempting to take the lead from Scotty, overlapped before the green light and then Scotty miscalculated a passing move at turn 2, contacting the #97 rear and sending it spinning.
The final outcome from the stewards was a 33 second penalty for both drivers. Best performance was undoubtedly Jamie Whincup who battled on with a crumpled bonnet and guard to come home in third place behind Mostert and the winner on the day, Fabian Coulthard.
Garth Tander’s 2012 race lap record quickly fell by the wayside during the race with the first six cars breaking the record and Nick Percat best with a 1:30.5482 on lap 3.
Sunday dawned with a clear sky and abated winds, much to the relief of all at the track.
Qualifying for the GRM team was similar to Saturday and once again the focus was on a good race car for both drivers that would hopefully give them some gains through the longer 200 kilometre race with its two mandatory pit stops.
Scotty McLaughlin topped the time for a second pole winner’s cheque, making it 10 out of the past 11 sessions this season and 13 in total.
James and Garth were side-by-side down the grid in 20th and 21st positions. Certainly not where they wanted to be and with a big job ahead of them to get through the field without mishap.
By lap 11 when the safety car was deployed after Rick Kelly blew a tyre in spectacular fashion, Garth had already worked his way up to 15th place and James was close on his bumper. A subsequent double stacking in the GRM garage dropped James back down the order to 21st, but on a more positive note, Garth kept passing cars and moved up the order to 11th.
The second pit stops for the GRM team went more smoothly and James was able to work his way back to a well-deserved 14th place by race end, while Garth found himself shuffled back a couple of spots before recovering to claim his 11th place at the chequered flag. Unfortunately for James and the team, the #34 Commodore was subsequently excluded from the results due to a bodywork infringement.
Whincup emerged the winner with Coulthard and Van Gisbergen filling the final podium spots. Whincup’s win made him the greatest winner ever in the Supercars/ATTC history with 106 victories. Mostert claimed the fastest lap of the race with a 1:30.1577 that eclipsed the record time set by Percat the previous day.
On a positive note for the GRM team, Garth is still in the top 10 in the Drivers Championship due to his consistency and James is not far behind in 13th place. The team also retains its 4th spot in the Teams Championship, again with consistent race results.
The GRM team now look forward to an upcoming test day to try some more settings before embarking on the trio of endurance races, starting with the Sandown 500 on 15-17 September where Garth is the defending champion with Warren Luff.
Garth Tander 9th
James Moffat 13th
Wilson Security Racing GRM 4th
The Super2/Dunlop Series last had a round at Sydney Motorsport Park in 2005, so for the 23 strong field the weekend presented a challenge with the compressed format of four 18 lap races over three days.
It was a busy time for Team PAYCE members over the weekend with the GRM team fielding the two Super2 cars for Richard Muscat (#44) and Mason Barbera (#99) and Brad Jones Racing looking after Macauley Jones in the #14 Commodore. Macauley also stepped into the Nick Percat #8 Commodore in practice for some more track time in the car he will co-drive in the enduros.
The Team PAYCE drivers have put in some impressive drives throughout the season, including Mason who is the newest member in the GRM stable.
It was surprising they didn’t fare better in the practice and qualifying sessions, but both Macca and Richard sneaked into the top 10 in qualifying and less than a second off fastest time.
Race one on Friday proved to be a welcome improvement, with Macauley jumping up two spots by race end to record a 6th place and Richard looking far more competitive in 11th despite an engine issue. Unfortunately, Mason was an innocent victim in an incident at turn 2 that took him back to the pits for a DNF.
Saturday had two races on the program and all three drivers improved on their earlier results. Macauley climbed up another spot to come home 5th in the second race of the round after dropping two positions before the safety car period, while Richard made it into the top 10 with an 8th place, up three spots from his grid position and Mason managed to gain four places to finish 22nd.
Race three saw both Richard and Macauley finish in the top 10 again with 7th and 8th respectively and Mason in 16th.
The fourth and final race of the round produced the best result of the season for Macauley when he did another blinder of a start and capped it off with a solid 2nd place finish behind Stanaway.
Mason also recovered well for the round with his second top 10 finish for the season in 10th place. Richard was not so lucky and a drive through penalty spelt the end to any worthwhile result, but he still managed 20th place.
The next Super2 round is at the Sandown 500 meeting where both Macauley and Richard will be very busy with co-drives in the first Pirtek Enduro Cup race of the season as well.
Macauley Jones 7th
Richard Muscat 9th
Mason Barbera 16th
Media contact: Bill Smith 0412 446 058