It’s Adam updating you on the 1st round of the new season, The Clipsal 500, Adelaide.
Well it was the start of a new season, and a massive change for me! New car, new team, new sponsors, new rules, systems and processes to learn. Changing to a V8 Supercar probably represents the largest step up in my racing career, even bigger than going from go-karts to cars. So you are all in the picture, I just want to cover the new team bit… Yes, I am still an Erebus driver, but at the end of last season, a decision was made by Erebus to abandon the Mercedes platform they were using and switch to Holden. They also made the big move from a Queensland based outfit to their Melbourne base we used last year for the GT’s and V8 Utes to be close to HRT who they now receive customer support from. The wash up for me is that Erebus could only purchase two Holden’s therefore they could not provide me with a race car for the year so with their blessing we signed with Matt Stone Racing to drive one of the Stone Brothers Falcons. I wouldn’t think Stone Brothers need any introduction, as they were the team that took Marcus Ambrose to his two V8 Supercar Championships. But Matt Stone Racing may. Matt is the son of Jimmy Stone and nephew of Ross stone, when they sold the team that became Erebus and retired from full time racing, Matt started Matt Stone Racing, where Jim and Ross now provide their expert advice. With a new team I have a whole new crew. New engineer – Luke, new mechanics Rob and other floating crew and not to mention thenew team boss Matt Stone.
The Dunlop (Development) series Supercars is classed as the development category to the main game supercars – the last stepping stone you could say. It is this category that all the main teams watch to select their endurance co-drivers and future talent, so the competition is pretty hot with every driver trying to make a name for themselves.
This year there is another twist to the category and that is the introduction of the “car of the future” to the development series. The development series has always been for Supercars 3 years or older, and only allowed what we call the “Blueprint cars” that is up to VE 11 Commodore and FG Falcon. Three years ago V8 Supercars introduced the car of the future, VF Commodore, FGX Falcon and some other manufactures. The main differences with the new car are, this new platform uses a transaxle set up, 18” wheels and a bigger brake package. The result is the new car is 3-7 tenths a lap quicker than the blueprint car. Now it would be great to change all the cars overnight but there are simply not enough to go around, so this year we have 11 COTF cars and 16 Blueprint cars.
We are in one of the Blueprint cars for at least half of the season and maybe the full season depending on when more COTF cars become available, so it will be really hard to crack a top ten finish when there are 11 cars that are already at least .5 of a second a lap quicker than you before you start, but we will give it our best shot, and it won’t be for lack of trying.
Now there are a whole lot of different rules, strategies and processes for Supercars compared to the V8 Utes and I will endeavour to explain them as the season unfolds.
I arrived at the track just after midday, the team had already set up the pit bay and it was straight out for the customary track walk with Matt, Luke and my team mate Todd Hazelwood who will be a great help to me this year as I transition between the Ute and the Supercar. The team had already prepared some track data maps for me with braking points, gear positions and other stuff that would help, so the track walk was about a visualisation of all the written data and discussing apexes, curbs and just general ways of how to drive a Supercar fast on a track like Clipsal. After the track walk it was into the transporter to watch for in-car footage to bring me up to speed and then off to drivers briefing.
Apart from a test day last month in Queensland, today would be the first time I have driven car so the feelings are pretty intense and a street circuit like Adelaide with the notorious turn 8 that has brought many a champion undone is there just waiting to bite me. My strategy for this round is just to learn, learn and then learn some more and bring the car home clean each time. There is so much more going on in a Supercar than a ute: you have roll bars to adjust on the fly, brake biases to change as fuel load changes not to mention how fast stuff comes at you at 300kph in between two concrete walls. My first session went well with me finishing 18th out of 27 cars about 2.5 seconds off the pace, so I had a fair bit of time to find.
After an extensive debrief and data session with Luke I knew where I was losing time! It was our favourite turn 8 and the second last turn and it all came down to a bit more speed commitment. We hit the track again at 3.35pm, and I found a little more pace, finished 16th and only 1.5 seconds off the top cars, in a session that was extremely close. Last year, 1.5 seconds off the leaders would put me in the Top 10.
This morning is qualifying, my 1st ever in a Supercar, this qualifying will be very challenging as being my first I do not know how far I can push a green (new) tyre over a used tyre, and it is the guys who have learnt this that will come out on top. We started the session on older tyres to get a feel for the car and make any final changes before we bolt on the new tyres. Then we had the choice of saving the green tyres until the very end and doing a 2 lap dash or going early, we chose to save and maybe it was a bad choice as another competitor brought out the red flag on my second flying lap and the session was brought to an end with me in 17th position.
Race 1 was at 5.15pm, as we lined up on the grid I have to say the butterflies were definitely there, what if I stalled on the line? These cars are incredibly hard to launch. The lights went green, I made a pretty good start and made up a couple of positions in the first lap. Whilst sitting in 15th behind Taz Douglas we came into turn 9, I went for the brake pedal and didn’t hit the pedal square with my foot… Now it takes 100kg of foot pressure each time you hit the brake pedal to stop one of these cars and with my foot not square on the pedal as I went to heal toe to downshift my foot slipped off the pedal and I tapped Taz from behind spinning us both, what a rookie mistake!!! Well that put me dead last and about 20 seconds behind the pack. Race control then decided to hand down a drive-through penalty (and rightly so!) for the contact, which when served put me about 40 seconds behind the rear of the field in 26th. Lucky for me that after about 10 laps of driving around on my own a safety car was called which allowed me to catch up to the back of the pack and it was time to make good my mistake! The lights went green again and I managed to race through the pack to finish in 14th place, with only a light scuff on the front guard from the contact with Taz. The team were happy, I was happy and the car was straight, job done – my first ever V8 Supercar race was complete. A dream come true!!
Unlike the Utes in DVS (development series) we have a qualifying session for each race same as main game. It works well as if you don’t get a good run in the 1st session you have a chance to recover the weekend in the second qualifying. We were first on track in the morning, the session went well although I still did not maximise the grip of green tyre as much as I should (it will come with more experience) and I finished in 16th.
Race 2 was due to start at midday at the hottest part of the day, I think it was about 39 degrees which meant in cabin temperatures of around 55+ degrees. The good thing about this car is I have a cool suit which pumps refrigerated water through a series of pipes in an undervest I wear, and also I have refrigerated and carbon purified air pumped into my helmet to also keep me cool but more importantly allow me to breathe purified air instead of fumes.
The race got off to a good start, I made up a few positions and then sat back and picked them off one at a time, there was carnage all over the place but I just the head down and pushed on. The races are fairly long races, 19 laps or 73km which ever you prefer so you have plenty of time to slowly work your way through. By the time the flag dropped I was in 11th place, with a perfectly straight car and could not be happier.
The end result of the weekend is that I currently sit in 14th place out of 27 in the Championship, leading the rookie championship. Of the 7 rookies who raced at Clipsal 4 are in the car of the future so taking everything into account it was a fantastic debut.
As always, and I would like to sincerely thank my sponsors: Auto One, Valvoline, Supercharge Batteries, SP Tools, Tridon, Raceworks, Wesfil, PK Tool, Meguiar’s, ACS and Nova 93.7 along with my personal sponsors Coolabah Tree Café Coomera and JR Marketing Group. Because, without their support we would not be able to race at this level. I would also like to thank the Matt Stone Racing team for all their hard work before, during and after each race meeting. They gave me such a great car to race.