Round 4 Race Report
Mallala Raceway, SA
30 June – 1 July 2007
After testing well on Thursday and Friday, I was confident I had a great car with which to qualify and race.
As it turned out, however, I achieved my worst qualifying results for the season with 6th in the first qualifying session and 5th in the second. With a great field of drivers this year, it wasn’t so much the final positions that bothered me (although, of course, I would prefer to be on the front row!) but the gap between pole and me – 6 tenths in Q1 and 5 tenths in Q2. It was frustrating because we had hardly changed the car from Friday practice (when I was fastest) to Saturday’s qualifying but it was a struggle to get the times out that I did.
Putting qualifying behind me, I was determined to move forward in race one and minimise the damage to my championship – both Macrow and Hollings, 1 and 2 in the championship, had out-qualified me and Mallala can be quite tricky to pass on.
After some heavy rain overnight, the track was half wet, half dry just before our race early Sunday morning. Although rain was not imminent, the question was how quickly the track would dry out during the race and, therefore, which tyres to use? Wets would clearly be quicker for the first few laps of the race, but how badly would they go off once the track dried? Slicks, on the other hand, whilst slower at the start, would be quicker at the end. We sat in the garage, car in the air and wheels off for as long as possible before finally deciding, at the last minute, to run wets. Because I was starting from 6th on the grid I needed to be able to pass. Wets would allow me to move off the dry line and make up positions.
Only 3 other cars elected wets, the rest of the field opting for slicks. On the warm up lap, I was sure we had made the wrong decision. There was already a dry line on most parts of the circuit, and it would only be a few laps before the rest of the circuit dried out as well. I needed to make the most of the wets whilst they gave me an advantage.
Off the start, I made up one position and gained another in the braking area of turn 3. In front of me was Winslow, Hollings and Macrow, Macrow the only one of those three on slicks. Winslow and Hollings raced past Macrow before turn 5 and my wets gave me the traction to get alongside Macrow on the exit. That put me on the outside of him going around the sweeper but he gave me no room and, trying to avoid a collision, I ended up on the grass. Keeping my foot into the throttle, I maintained my momentum and was able to pull up the inside of Macrow into the braking area of turn 7. With Macrow once again shutting the door as we turned in for the corner, this time I had no where to go to avoid hitting him and we collided. We ended up in the dirt and, as both of us attempted to get back on the track, our wheels tangled again. My front wing was badly damaged but I managed to rejoin the circuit in 9th.
I moved up to 8th on the next lap before a safety car was deployed. 5 laps later, the safety car peeled off and I set about making up as much ground as possible on the leaders. I picked off the cars in front one by one, all of which were on slicks except the first 3. I found the best place to pass was into turn 3, where the road was still damp off line and the guys on slicks were struggling for grip.
By the end of lap 13 I was in 3rd position and faster than Winslow and Hollings, in front. The track was bone dry, by this stage, however, so the guys behind on slicks were faster than me and challenging me everywhere they could.
With my wets almost completely gone, I was struggling for grip everywhere, which made it hard to pass Hollings, despite my being faster. I finally made a move into 7, braking as late as my tyres would allow and I pulled it off, claiming 2nd. The tyres were getting worse and worse but, with pressure from Mapelli behind, I pushed on and caught up to the back of Winslow. He was even harder to pass, especially while I had to drive defensively for the last 3 laps to keep Mapelli behind.
On the last lap, Mapelli pulled along the outside of me in the braking for turn 7. He remained on the outside all the way around, giving him the inside for 8. I stayed on the outside of him there, knowing I had the inside for 9. It paid off and I held on for 2nd by the skin of my teeth.
I was clearly the fastest car on wets and have no doubt that I would have won had it not been for the first lap incident with Macrow. Despite that, I was happy to have recovered from 9th, with a damaged wing, to claim 2nd.
The lead up to race two was similar to race one in that it had just rained and the track was half dry and half wet. This time, everyone turned up to the grid on wets. Garth kept an eye on the track, however, and, at the very last minute while sitting on the dummy grid, he decided to go for slicks. As my crew rushed around changing tyres, other teams decided to go the same way and soon the whole grid was a hive of activity with wets being swapped for slicks. It was the right call, as the track was bone dry.
Starting in 5th, I maintained my position into turn one but moved into 4th by turn two after Winslow ended up running wide on the exit of one.
I struggled to get my tyres up to temperature, not able to do anything about the three cars in front slowly pulling away. It took about 10 laps before my tyres came good and, by that time, though I lapped at similar times I could not close the gap. In contrast to race one, I ran in 4th the whole time neither challenging the cars in front or being challenged by cars behind.
In the end, I accumulated the second highest number of points for the weekend, behind Winslow, which meant I closed the gap to the leaders. I am now only 6 points behind Macrow and 1 behind Hollings with half the year still to come.