When I signed off last time, we were on the verge of the endurance season, and most importantly Bathurst, so after the fiasco that was Pukekohe I was sure things could only improve. Our car speed in NZ was very strong and we carried that to Mount Panorama for the granddaddy of them all; the Supercheap Bathurst 1000.
Early practice saw us well inside the top 10 with third fastest time and my #6 machine heading the quartet of TIckford Racing entries, which saw our team filling positions three, four, five and six and separated by just 0.12s. To put that into perspective that’s a distance of just over five metres covering all four cars at the start-finish line … very close indeed.
The final practice session prior to the all-important Friday afternoon qualifying hour saw me setting the third fastest time again but late in the session I felt a strange vibration and lack of car speed so the team set about changing the gearbox and drivetrain, concerned that something was out of balance or alignment. Sadly, the work they put in was all to no avail because when the afternoon’s qualifying session started, and in wet conditions for the first time all weekend, my car was running rougher than ever.
I noticed on my out lap so pitted, fearful that the track might become wetter still and deny me the chance of setting a time good enough to make the prestigious Top-10 Shootout held as the last event on Saturday afternoon.
The boys in the team tried everything but as the minutes ticked by the car simply wouldn’t start and if it did it ran like an old tractor. The problem was traced to the timing and the chopper wheel, which was replaced but still the car wouldn’t run, then with just 10-minutes remaining in qualifying the problem was finally diagnosed and I was sent out on track. It was a huge challenge with gloomy and wet conditions greeting me and having 50-minutes less track time than those who had been whittling their times down all session.
I threw everything I had at the laps I was on, not really knowing how much grip there was on offer and conscious that if I slipped off the road I would waste precious time trying to set a lap fast enough to make the shootout. After four laps I registered the eighth fastest time, only to have others improve too, knocking me down to as far as 14th in the dying minutes and with just one lap remaining my final attempt was an absolutely eyes wide open attempt at finding enough speed to make it into the 10 without over-stepping the mark and blowing the lap. My final flyer was among the very-best laps I’ve ever driven and when the chequered flag fell to end the session I was in a scarcely believable seventh spot, just 0.1s faster than a group of cars right behind me. In fact, had I have been a further 0.15s slower I would have been 11th and missed out on the shootout altogether.
It was a really satisfying outcome and repaid the tireless work the team - who were over the moon with the result - had done to get me into the session, which in all honesty I had pretty much given up being a part of. Better still, the next day I did my best ever Bathurst shootout lap to move up into second position for the race start, which was my personal best at the daunting, time-honoured circuit and very satisfying indeed.
Infuriatingly my race was ended when contact with my teammate Chaz Mostert took place with just under 40 laps to go, and just when we were showing genuine podium-challenging (at least) form. The end result was for two consecutive years my race - and that of my teammate, Michael Caruso - had been ruined by my teammate, which was a bitter pill to swallow.
However the satisfaction of competing at Bathurst cannot be measured in race results alone and I left there truly satisfied that I had done the two very best laps I had ever driven around the 6.12k layout, and in completely different circuit conditions, while I was also buoyed by the genuinely competitive position we were holding at the time of the ill-fated incident with Chaz.
Sometimes the satisfaction of competing comes from more than the outright result, but it’s still fair to say that missing out on a potential podium - or better - at The Mountain hurts plenty too.
Roll on Bathurst 2020.