As we enter the most critical phase of the racing year, I feel confident some big things are in store for this year’s Supercars season of endurance, and we head to the famous Mount Panorama circuit next week well-prepared to challenge for a Bathurst honours.
Last time out at Pukekohe saw our car showing great speed in both qualifying and racing, yet despite that form we were the victims of circumstance in not being able to secure the noteworthy result the team thoroughly deserved. After a strong Saturday that saw me taking the chequered flag in second spot a strong run on Sunday was scuppered by a needless Safety Car call, which helped the chasing pack catch-up to us, and things went from bad to worse when the Safety Car picked up the wrong car when they mistakenly lobed right in front of Jamie Whincup, who despite leading earlier, was actually in 16th place when he arrived hot on the heels of the Safety Car.
Usually he would have been waived by, as would I have been, before the Safety Car eventually picked up the true race leader, which most likely would have been the first of the cars yet to stop, and in the event of that car making its pit stop - and every other car behind it - then, and only then would Whincup have been the leader, and I would have been positioned in third place in the queue prior to the re-start.
Infuriatingly, the problem was made worse still when Jamie charged by the Safety Car thinking they were going to waive him by, which saw him cop a penalty, but as I - and my team mate Lee Holdsworth - chose not to do so, we were then caught at snail’s pace stuck behind the Safety Car while a dozen or so cars made their pit stops and jumped us for track position. It was a complete shambles and saw 10 cars behind us prior to the pit stops all end up ahead of us despite many of them being shown in positions 14 and beyond prior to when the Safety Car was deployed.
Worse still, we were sent back to racing conditions before the mess could be sorted out and ended up stuck in the pack unable to make much progress, which became an even bigger issue due to me making a shorter fuel stop during my first of two visits to pit lane. The sum total of all of that was I missed securing two podiums in a row, and that in itself costs more than silverware and points. Many drivers and teams are on performance bonus programs and these can amount to many tens of thousands of dollars, so it was a big hit to the result, securing yet another trophy, the team’s finances and my own hip pocket, and the hardest thing is trying to explain what somehow transpired to our sponsors, fans and friends. ENZED had guests at Pukekohe and many were left wondering just how this type of situation could take place, and they were not alone I can assure you.
Pleasingly, since the Pukekohe weekend there have been a number of high-level meetings, all designed to ensure there is not a repeat of what took place in New Zealand and one can only wonder what sort of outcry there would be should an incident like this decide a major race, or heaven forbid a championship. We, as a group, simply must do better than what we witnessed across the ditch.
Regardless of the frustrations, the layout and average speeds seen at Pukekohe are quite similar to many of the corners at Bathurst, which has given the team a lot of confidence heading into the Supercheap Auto-backed event, and with all four Tickford cars running strongly inside the top-six in NZ I feel sure we can put on a good show next weekend. By the time we arrive in rural New South Wales we will have completed a test day at Winton, where we will give all co-drivers plenty of track time and also practice our driver changes, and perform pit stops to ensure we are well-prepared for the race, which is our Holy Grail event of the racing year … and the one race every driver wants to win.
I’ve been on the podium twice there in the Dunlop Series in 2014 and 2015, finished in fourth place in 2016 just 3.2s away from the win, while in 2016 we led the most laps by far only to be eliminated on Safety Car restart late-race. There are no free kicks or gimmies at Bathurst and many a tale of woe so an element of luck is always required in order to be challenging for the win late on Sunday afternoon, but I have complete faith in my (new) co-driver for this year in Michael Caruso, who has also been on the podium there previously, and after the dramas of Pukekohe maybe there’s some good luck due to come our way. We will see, but rest assured I will be doing everything in my power to win the race and feel confident we will be genuine contenders when it matters most.
Wish me luck.