Pukekohe dramas deliver down to the wire championship
With just one round of this year’s Supercars Drivers Championship remaining, the title will now be decided at the Newcastle 500 finale, following another dramatic weekend, this time at the Pukekohe circuit, where a number of potential championship winners missed out on vital points.
Nobody would have predicted that the last four rounds would be rain-affected and that the varying conditions would have such a bearing on the championship lead. On the upside, it made for some exciting racing and strategy playouts right up to the chequered flag on Sunday.
For Team PAYCE drivers, Garth Tander and James Moffat, the weekend started quietly, although Garry Rogers reported he was reasonably happy with the two sessions. The team focused on different setups, but resisted the temptation to use up their green tyres in the hunt for more tenths of a second as they only had eight sets of tyres allocated to use over the full meet.
By the end of the sessions, the GRM team were satisfied they had reasonable speed and had room for improvement come qualifying. The best result for the team across practice was a seventh fastest in the first session by Garth in the #33 Commodore.
Come Saturday and all the weather predictions of rain proved to be spot on. Unfortunately, the track was saturated with heavy rain as the qualifying session approached and although an attempt was made to run the cars, the conditions proved so treacherous that the session was abandoned.
The drivers that did make it on track reported back that they were experiencing aquaplaning on the newly laid surfaces and little grip in other sections of the circuit.
After much head scratching, it was decided that the times set in practice would determine starting positions for the 200 kilometre race scheduled later in the day. It was even contemplated that if the rain did not ease then the race would be moved to Sunday morning, but as it turned out the weather improved with just a drizzle around and the track starting to dry out.
The GRM team elected to start on wets, as did the rest of the field. Based on the practice times, Garth was 16th on the grid while James was 19th.
Both GRM cars made good starts and by the end of the first round of pit stops, Garth was up seven positions to 9th and Moff was holding down 16th spot.
On lap 33, Garth quickly pitted when Courtney’s crash into the tyre wall triggered the Safety Car. Moff was able to pit next lap around and avoid double-stacking in the pits. This gained each car another position.
Lap 55 saw an incident unfold involving several cars and Coulthard’s Falcon on its roof against the tyre barrier, but fortunately no personal injuries. The GRM cars were able to avoid the stranded cars and jump further up the order as the Safety Car was deployed for the second time.
Due to the need for Safety Car interventions, the race was shortened by four laps. Garth came home a very respectable 7th and Moff was up 6 positions from his grid spot at the end to finish 13th. Van Gisbergen made the most of the incident-filled race to cross the line in first place, followed by Winterbottom and McLaughlin filling the second and third places.
Sunday was a different story weatherwise and qualifying for the day’s race was held under blue skies and in dry conditions. The 20 minute session was a bit of a lottery with alternate cloudy and sunny periods, which can make all the difference with the closeness of times these days.
Both Garth and Moff got in some good runs on green tyres early in the session to put them in the top 10 times. Whincup pipped McLaughlin for pole in the last minute and at session close, Moff was 9th and Garth was 11th. The GRM cars were about three-tenths of a second off the polesitter’s time, which confirmed to the team that the two cars were well set up.
The Sunday race started in cloudy conditions and both GRM cars got off the line cleanly and by the end of lap one had improved positions markedly to be in 4th (James) and 5th (Garth). Both cars continued to be placed well within the top 10 apart from the mandatory pit stops that went smoothly as usual. Lap 12 saw Moff in the lead, although that was short-lived as he was one of the last to pit in that cycle. Garth in the #33 Commodore held fourth place from lap 20 through to lap 31, before giving up the spot to pit.
By race end, the #34 and #33 cars were top 10 finishers with Moff in 6th place and Garth 9th. Whincup was able to hold off a charging McLaughlin to take the win and the Jason Richards Trophy for the second time. Cam Waters continued his good form to come home third.
Overall, one of the best performances by the GRM team this season and a confidence booster for the upcoming Newcastle round. This will be the first time the team is on a level playing field regarding data, as Newcastle being a new circuit, no team arrives with an advantage in this area.
Garth continues to hold onto his 9th position in the Drivers Championship and the Wilson Security GRM team’s performance in NZ means they cannot be beaten for the 4th place they currently hold in the Teams Championship.
Congratulations to Garry and the team on a great effort over the weekend and we wish them all the best for the final round in Newcastle.
Contact: Bill Smith 0412 446 058