Darwin is exactly the sort of place that can throw up a surprise winner. Just ask V8 Supercars driver and Motorsport.com columnist Rick Kelly.
At the start of the season, you always circle the Hidden Valley event on the calendar as one to look forward to.
Not only are we guaranteed great weather, but Darwin is one car-mad town. For a relatively small population base, the number of people who turn out at the track is amazing.
Even if you walk around the town, you get fans hanging out car windows wishing you good luck.
If you’ve never been to the race before, picture one of our premiere street circuit events, like Adelaide, Townsville, Gold Coast or Sydney, but with the infrastructure and party set up around a permanent track.
Even from behind the wheel, you get a sense of the atmosphere up through the Valley section of the track at turn six.
The unlikely victory
I’ve been very fortunate over the years to register a couple of race wins in Darwin, the most recent was in 2011 – and it was a pretty funny day.
I qualified 12th, but by the time a late race safety car hit the track I had worked myself up into fifth place. Coming back to the green flag, the leader was going incredibly slowly, which led to a spot of chaos heading down into Turn 1.
Jamie Whincup, Mark Winterbottom, Shane Van Gisbergen and Lee Holdsworth managed to get themselves four wide down the straight, and with nobody willing to give an inch, they all speared off… it was like four pin bowling!
Can you believe that? I managed to mind my own business, hold a tight line, and keep the lead in the closing laps. That season we won a total of three races, but this particular win was the only one we managed in the dry, even if it was totally unexpected.
Potential is there
We had a particularly strong first visit to Hidden Valley with our Jack Daniel’s Nissan Altima in 2013. On the Saturday we made the Top 10 shootout, and then held on for a fifth place result in the race.
Last year was a tougher event, but we managed to save a set of tyres on the Saturday, which gave us a Top 10 result in the longer Sunday race. As always, strategy really came into play in that 200km race, as did the use of the soft tyre.
Having that extra set of softs to use during Saturday’s second race will definitely help dictate strategy on Sunday this time around.
Hidden Valley is really a track of two halves; following on from the second longest straight we encounter during the season, there are 14 turns to deal with. Even if we are a bit down on power, we need to ensure that the handling is right to make up for it on the remainder of the lap.
The new track surface will definitely come into play, and change everyone’s thinking.
Last year, Hidden Valley was nearly up there with Perth as the most slippery tracks we visited, and we spent much of the weekend trying to drive over the painted or concrete areas at the extremities of the track to find some grip.
Get back into it
Certainly from a racing point of view, I’m pretty keen to get back in the car this weekend. It’s tough waiting this long between races, especially after we had such a good weekend at Winton.
We’ve certainly picked up our game in qualifying, and we were able to use that to our advantage in the Saturday race when we finished second.
I’m definitely in a very happy place right now with how the team are going, and the package we have been able to put together with the race car.
It’s pretty exciting, I’m definitely keen to get back into the car and just keep racing. The way Todd, I and the entire team feel about racing at the moment, we’d be out there every weekend if we could.