V8 Supercars star and Motorsport.com columnist took a well-earned 10th place away from the Sandown 500. But as he explains, it was anything but a straightforward result.
The Sandown 500 is always a unique event, which makes it very interesting.
It’s a long weekend, and it’s easy to get sucked into some monkey business in those first two 20-lap qualifying races on Saturday. Unfortunately for us, we were in the thick of the action this time around.
We didn’t quite manage to keep ourselves out of the trouble; we had a harsh kerb strike in Dave Russell’s race, which bent a rear control arm and put us out of that race.
It was nothing major, but enough to sideline us, and force me to start from the rear of the grid for my qualifying race. I managed to sneak up to 14th by taking advantage of other people’s issues, as well as making a good getaway from the grid.
That was pretty good for us, as we didn’t have that great a set-up in qualifying, and it put us in a workable position for the main event on Sunday.
The critical key to the 500 was that we had to stay out of trouble and keep the car nice and straight.
Dave made a strong getaway, settling into a pretty good rhythm in 10th position.
Just before the end of Dave’s second stint, the car dropped back to 14th position, but from there we still had a reasonably quick car.
Unfortunately when I got back behind the wheel, we sustained a little bit of damage again to the rear control arm, which wasn’t what we were counting on.
From there we weren’t quite in limp home mode, but it was definitely a little bit harder to attack for position.
We continued to tune the car to the conditions during the race, and we managed to bring it home to the chequered flag.
Working under pressure
I think to grab a 10th place result is something we can be pretty pleased with all things being considered, but I think the highlight for myself was the team work displayed during the race.
We had a couple of very high pressure situations throughout the 161 laps. Car #7, the other Nissan sharing our bunker, had some issues and the crew repaired it on the fly.
Watching that from within the pits before my stint, I think it was really well managed; you have to act on your feet, keep everyone safe and get the car back on the track as quickly as they could.
The guys achieved that very well as a team. Later on in my race, I was impressed with the reaction to our damaged suspension and the effort put in so that we didn’t lose ground.
These are the sorts of things that you just can’t practice in the workshop.
That’s why the Sandown 500 is a crucial part of the preparations for the Bathurst 1000. You have to get ready, get the co-driver up to speed, nail your driver changes, as well as the teamwork aspect.
We still have some practice to do, but we proved that we’re pretty close to being ready for the big one.
Everyone thinks about Bathurst. It’s the one event that you don’t consider racing for points, you don’t think about anything outside of trying to win the race.
It’s always an interesting one; it’s the most unpredictable race we have on the calendar.
Normally when you head into an event, Friday practice shows you who is going to be fast, and almost certainly it is those guys who will be on the podium throughout the weekend. Bathurst is just not like that.
It’s all about being able to think on your feet, capitalise on whatever is thrown your way on the day, sometimes it’s the weather, sometimes it’s the track, drivers making mistakes, or pit-stop issues.
Especially in the first couple of days of the event, there are always one or two cars that sustain such serious damage that they become unlikely starters come Sunday.
It makes you nervous, but you plan and prepare yourselves as best as you can, and that’s from every angle. For the drivers, you mentally put yourself in the zone, and ensure you are at peak fitness.
From the team standpoint, a lot of components are lifed to be changed over annually prior to Bathurst, it’s important that all of the parts that start the race are capable of lasting 161 laps.
For most of the travelling crew, it has been an incredibly taxing time of year, with race meetings, ride days and testing. These next few weeks in the lead up are all about managing the people, to ensure we are ready to fire at Bathurst.