2019 has started really well from a competitive viewpoint but it’s fair to say that I feel I should be higher up in the championship points than my current ninth position, but I can’t complain about the competitiveness of my new Ford Mustang, which has been somewhat of a revelation.
We were fastest at the pre-season test at Phillip Island, but I felt the lap times were slightly flattering because it didn’t feel like a great car during its first run, which only came after the team worked around the clock for two weeks to get our four cars to Phillip Island.
Adelaide was a great weekend, minus one small element that was out of my control. We were fast throughout and the car was well-balanced from the minute we rolled it out of the truck and to make both Top-10 shootouts was massively satisfying. I qualified fourth for both races and being part of the pressure-cooker environment of doing the shootout lap with the track all to yourself was great, and to have such a huge crowd on hand too always adds to it, not to mention the massive live television audience who were tuned in that weekend. Apparently, the ratings were excellent which is always good for our sponsors, specifically ENZED.
We also had a new sponsor on board for the year in Scandia who make gas log fires and sell through the Bunnings network and their CEO and COO were both in Adelaide soaking up the atmosphere, which really is like no other. The Adelaide crowd know their motor racing, which I think comes on the back of the Australian Grand Prix having been there for over a decade and they cheer every category across the four-day program.
Sadly, my Saturday race was as good as over before the start when my cool-suit failed on the grid after a mix-up when topping it up and I was left to cope in 60-degree cabin temperatures for the opening stint of the race. With the ambient being 37-degrees at the start I had to pit, as there is a rule put in place by Supercars that states all cool-suits need to be operational over 32-degrees. I was really upset to have to pit with what was a very strong car and felt I could have coped OK to the end, but rules are rules and I lost a heap of laps while the team replaced the cool-suit box and topped it back up with dry ice. With very little carnage, which is rare for Adelaide, I came home in an unrepresentative 22nd at race end.
Sunday was much better and I was delighted to claim a strong second place and the first podium of the year for the Tickford Racing Mustang. In fact, it was my first podium finish since Pukekohe in New Zealand in 2017, so I took it all in. It was also pleasing to hold off Shane van Gisbergen all the way to the finish line, as he started to close in on me, benefitting from having fresher tyres.
My podium form continued into the next event at Albert Park, where the Supercars are the main support category/show for the Formula 1 cars, and again I qualified strongly with a pair of fourths, a third and a second place to my credit after the four sessions, and I was back up on the podium again in the first two races before having an unplanned, and quite freakish, departure from the third race when Scott McLaughlin and I came together while warming our tyres up. No driver was solely to blame but it ruined both of our chances and I was really disappointed to be denied the chance to lead the race from my front row start.
Sunday morning’s fourth race was strong, and I came home in fourth position having used old tyres knowing our pace was solid, and by saving new rubber for the next round in Tasmania we can maximise the car’s performance in practice and qualifying.
So while I am sitting in ninth in the points score after two of the 15 rounds, I feel that on car speed alone I should be higher up and my qualifying average of 3.5 supports my thinking. There is a long season ahead and it’s great to have three of our Tickford Racing cars in the top-10 with Chaz Mostert in third, having won a race at the AGP and Will Davison in fourth, while Lee Holdsworth is just outside the top dozen drivers.
My confidence is high but that has been given a knock with the recent news that the Mustang is going to be given a weight penalty on the back of the early-season from that has seen the marque win all six races. I feel aggrieved by that, as last year there were 14 new ZB Commodores and they clearly had an advantage over our quite outdated Falcons, yet here we are two races in and parity has already been assessed. Worse still, the Mustangs - all six of them - are going to have to add the most weight of all manufacturers; Ford, Nissan and Holden.
I’m not sure how it will affect the car’s on-track performance but adding weight at any time is never a good thing and by adding it to the stipulated area, around the roofline, could potentially change the car’s handling characteristics.
I guess we will see soon enough, although I’m still hopeful of maintaining the good early form we have seen from the first six races.