VIP Petfoods Podium Position in Wild West Three action-filled races at Western Australia's Barbagallo Raceway saw the VIP Petfoods -- bf racing team increase their lead in the 2004 Ford Racing Australian Formula Ford Championship. Multiple car...
VIP Petfoods Podium Position in Wild West
Three action-filled races at Western Australia's Barbagallo Raceway saw the VIP Petfoods -- bf racing team increase their lead in the 2004 Ford Racing Australian Formula Ford Championship. Multiple car pile-ups, including a dramatic 160km/h rollover, added further drama in the tough fight for the race lead and for the championship. Brett Francis managed to come through the carnage to take yet another podium result, finishing the weekend in third place behind local gun Dean Fiore and Victorian David Reynolds. Francis is the only driver to have finished on the podium at every round this year, and this consistency means that the team now has a 22 point lead over Tim Macrow in the chase for the series crown.
Practice and qualifying didn't go well for the Queenslander, when he discovered that air was making its way into the clutch and brake systems, causing his pedals to go soft. Seventh on the grid was the best he could manage, his lowest starting position of the year. But his experience and determination showed in the first few laps of race one, when he quickly made his way forward, and had just grabbed third position on lap four when the Safety Car made it's first of many appearances over the weekend. Controversy at the restart resulted in more cars being eliminated, and yet another Safety Car period. Once it cleared there were only a couple of laps left until the end of the race, although the tussle between Fiore, Bryce Washington and Francis was so tight that both Washington and Francis didn't see the chequered flag, and continued racing for a lap and a half before being called off the track!
Race two provided by far the most frightening moment in the 2004 series, when local John McCowan hit the rear wheel of another car, which caused him to spear off the track at 160km/h into the already stranded car of Bryce Washington. The head-on collision between the two launch McCowan over the top of Washington onto the trackside wall, the car rolling along the wall for some distance before coming to rest upside down on the side of the track. Thankfully both drivers came away from the accident with only scratches and bruising, but their efforts were seen across the country as it made Channel Ten's "Play of the Day" for the weekend. The race was after the V8 Supercar event, and the increase in track grip meant that the VIP Petfoods -- bf racing car developed speed-sapping understeer. Try as he might, Francis couldn't hang on to the leaders, and eventually lost a spot as Reynolds came charging through, ending up fourth.
Sunday's final race was to be the closest of the weekend, with lead and position changes all the way through the order, especially with the leading four of Fiore, Reynolds, Macrow and Francis all dicing for the lead and the minor placings. Yet another incident left a car stranded in the middle of the circuit, requiring the Safety Car to be dispatched for one final time to attend the drivers and clean up the mess. When it finally cleared Francis had numerous attempts to get passed Macrow in their fight for the last podium spot. It was Formula Ford racing at its best with late braking causing sparks to fly from the bottom of the cars as they hit the bumps, side-by-side racing through most corners - at one time the VIP Petfoods car had all four wheels on the grass as it was squeezed off the track. But Francis finally made it stick three laps from the end by out-braking the Spectrum driver around the outside into the last corner then managing to hold him out until the chequered flag.
In summing up his Wild West adventures, Francis was realistic about his performance:
"I honestly thought I would be a lot quicker on this track than I have been, so even though our lead in the series has increased, it hasn't been a satisfying weekend for me. I really enjoy driving here, and the car tends to work pretty well, but we did suffer with a loss of setup time on Friday. I can't explain why we had some problems on Friday and Saturday, but we'll pull the master cylinders apart back at the workshop and figure out the cause."
"Once we tweaked the setup for the first race the car was working well, and I thought I'd be strong for the second race on Sunday morning. However the track did gain more grip after the V8s had their race and put more rubber down, and I gained more grip at the rear than the front causing some understeer. I couldn't challenge the guys in front, and ended up losing a spot, but thankfully avoided all the incidents behind us. Another tweak brought it back into line for the last race, but I still couldn't match the pace of Dean or David. We'll need to be on top of the game at Queensland Raceway in a few weeks."
And what about his "extended race" after the chequered flag in race one:
"Well, I was desperate to win something this weekend, and that looked like my best chance! In Bryce's and my defence, apparently when the flag was shown we had our wheels interlocked and two of mine were on the grass, so my attention was obviously directed elsewhere at the time. I've been told that a couple of categories had problems with not only the position of the flag point (it is mounted above the track) but also with the flag being shown at the last minute when they are right under it, and unless you're looking up you can't see it. Dean was still flat out through Turn One, which made us even less aware of it. When he slowed at Turn Two, Bryce nearly ran into the back of him, and I thought 'Here's my moment!' and I was through and gone. No wonder it seemed like such a good pass. So Bryce and I were going at it for a couple of laps before they figured out we weren't stopping. It wasn't until they red flagged us and I pulled up in the pits and asked an official 'Did I miss something?' to which he replied 'Yeah -- the chequered flag!' that I discovered what happened. That was the quickest slowing down lap of my life. They should have at least let me start the next race two laps ahead--."
The VIP Petfoods -- bf racing team will next compete at the fourth round of the 2004 Ford Racing Australian Formula Ford Championship at Queensland Raceway in Ipswich with the V8Supercar series on 2 -- 4 July.