The start of our Supercars season has been in Adelaide since 2001 and the event is a great way to launch into the year, with huge crowds and a real party-like atmosphere throughout the weekend, and with Adelaide hosting the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix event there for 11 years between 1985 and 1995 the Supercars show continues the theme that was created long before I was born. Even though the layout of the circuit is slightly different the circuit is a real challenge and punishes mistakes, which makes it even more important to be well prepared heading in.
This year was the earliest we’ve ever started our racing year and while it was technically only one week ahead of the 2019 season commencement, we also had a test day en-route to Adelaide at the Tailem Bend Circuit, about an hour out of Adelaide, and while that doesn’t sound like a major big deal, it certainly tested our team, and others who travelled from further afar. Put simply, by having a test on the Tuesday before the event our cars had to be ready by the previous Friday before the seven-hour trek from Melbourne, which was February 14.
Considering most people didn’t return to work until mid-Jan we essentially had two weeks less prep time to be ready for the year and that saw many late nights and rather weary crew arrive in Adelaide following the Tailem Bend test. I was quite fresh, having spent the majority of the summer skiing up on the Murray River back home in Mildura, while I also squeezed in a quick trip to the UK for my third stint of one-on-one driver coaching with renowned F1 skills specialist Rob Wilson.
My biggest challenge of the first racing week was coping with a badly sprained ankle, which I managed to do the previous Friday when I slipped down the steps at home with my arms full of travel bags. It was really painful and despite frequent ice application and staying off it, plus some physio work, I arrived at the test with a black and blue foot and considerable pain. Fortunately it was my left foot, or I would have been in real strife and I kept it quiet and away from the media so I didn’t have to worry about the distraction of being hassled over it. I also didn’t want my fellow competitors to have any idea at all.
It didn’t really bother me in the car and I had a very competitive weekend on track, making both top-10 shootouts and qualifying in fifth and third spots for the two 78-lap races, before leaving the opening round in a strong fourth place in the pointscore having bagged a podium finish on the Sunday by claiming third place. Mind you, that third really should have been second place but I botched my pit entry late race and lost over six seconds on track, which would have been more than enough time to be well-placed ahead of former teammate Chaz Mostert.
Speaking of Chaz, we seemed to spend most of both races in each other’s company and had a great dice on Saturday, which included some trading of paint, but nothing more than that, although Bathurst last year did enter my mind at one stage before deciding it was better to get early points on the board than risk a penalty. I beat him home that day at any rate, before he held me off on Sunday and we are now separated by just three points heading into the second event on the streets of Albert Park.
My third place didn’t come without a fright as the late-stopping Shane Van Gisbergen charged up to mount an aggressive challenge and just as he was forcing his way by he had a suspension failure, which saved me and it was great to be up on the podium for the second time in two years. In 2019 he was also right on my tail during the run to the flag and it must have irked him to have his Red Bull backed car miss out on beating my Monster Energy machine, but that didn’t stop him accepting a lift from me on the slow down lap as he stood next to his abandoned and stricken Commodore. In hindsight it was somewhat ironic that a Ford driver would pick up a Holden driver, let alone the fact that we are both backed by rival sponsors … and as was pointed out to me later on he is a Kiwi and I am an Aussie but it just goes to show that good sportsmanship runs deep in Supercars and the media turned it into a bit of fun post-race for some added exposure.
All in all a very solid weekend and I feel we have made some good steps to close the gap on those we need to beat in order to mount a championship assault. It’s early days yet and the next track we visit has a totally different characteristic to that of the Adelaide circuit, but I feel confident we can mount a decent challenge when we hit the track over the weekend of March 13-15.
I hope I’m right.